An affordable home
The house on Charlotte Street in Davenport was in bad shape. The bank had taken it back from a previous owner. It needed pretty much everything – plumbing, electrical, HVAC, a roof, and all sorts of drywall, painting, flooring, and appliances.
Along came One Eighty – an organization that knows a few things about rehabbing buildings and lives. Their dream? To renovate, each year, a handful of the dozens and dozens of abandoned and neglected houses in Davenport, and then give families with low income the opportunity to own a home.
The bank gave One Eighty the house for free. One Eighty’s work crews – the organization runs businesses to assist its program participants in returning to productive lives – worked on the house. One Eighty invested about $35,000 on materials and professionals to make the transformation complete.
“We want to take every abandoned house we can get our hands on and renovate them,” said Rusty Boruff, One Eighty’s leader. “Don’t believe people when they tell you it can’t be done. This is the new way to fight poverty, homelessness, and our affordable housing crisis. This house will be used to bless a family going through a difficult time. It’s a pretty simple concept.”
The house on Charlotte Street was the first One Eighty completed. A family of three, a couple and their son, recently moved in. Soon, in partnership with St. Paul, One Eighty will find another house to do the same. Who will live there? A family whose children attend Madison Elementary School, which St. Paul also partners with, will be chosen to start on the path to homeownership.
An incredible need
Last year, the All St. Paul Reads selection was Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. It prompted a discussion: What can St. Paul do to eliminate the housing barriers people in poverty face, while also stabilizing neighborhoods through homeownership?
Over the past several months, the St. Paul Mission Board engaged in detailed conversations regarding local options for affordable housing. They brainstormed and investigated a number of ways St. Paul might make a meaningful and substantial impact for some low income individuals in search of stable housing.
“We recognize there is an incredible need for local, stable, and safe housing, particularly in the neighborhood that serves as the residential base for Madison Elementary School, our partner school,” the Mission Board said in its report to the Congregational Council. “We believe there is substantial merit in identifying and assisting working families whohave so much in place to succeed in life, but who cannot land or afford safe and dependable housing. We’ve wondered together how we might help foster safe and affordable housing that would, in turn, allow other basic necessities for human flourishing to fall into place for at least a few families.”
As part of this agreement, St. Paul will make an upfront monetary gift of $43,000 to One Eighty for the express purpose of One Eighty acquiring and rehabbing a home in need of repairs in the Madison Elementary School boundary. One Eighty will own the home. The family selected for the program will make a reasonable payment each month to One Eighty, based on their income. In this rent-to-own model, One Eighty will eventually turn over ownership of the home once program expectations are met.
All the while, a team of people from St. Paul will help refurbish the home, and then support the family as they move from instability to stability. The hope is that this pilot project is the beginning of an extended partnership.
Choosing the family
Christina Taylor, who is Madison Elementary’s social worker, will guide the process of selecting a family. She also was involved in the selection of the family now calling Charlotte Street home. Oftentimes, even with working two or more jobs, it is hard for families to afford a home.
“It was one of the most fulfilling projects I’ve been involved with,” she said. “The family was so deserving. They work so hard. It felt so, so good. The key thing is finding the right family.”
The pride of ownership, and accountability for what happens in their neighborhood, is an important part of the initiative, Christina said.
“It offers stability for children – moving from house to house and school to school isn’t good for them academically,” she said. “And it builds strong relationships.”
The family selected for Charlotte Street lived in a run-down studio apartment, the mom said. She grew up in Davenport, and never imagined she could own a home here. When she walked through the door of her new home a month ago, the people of One Eighty had fully furnished it – including a Christmas tree.
“I’m so very blessed,” she said.
On that day, staff from Madison Elementary School came to celebrate. Rusty noticed when one of the teachers, as she was leaving, said to the family’s child: “I’ll see you tomorrow, buddy.”
“This is 100 percent built on relationships,” Rusty said. “The only way this concept works is when families are surrounded by people who care about them.”