Real Estate

New kindness in old neighborhood

Barbara Gotay nails shingles on the roof of her future home.
Barbara Gotay nails shingles on the roof of her future home.

Everything wasn’t new and shiny 41 years ago when Rebecca Tabon and her husband bought the little two-bedroom brick house on Lansing Street. The trim needed painting and they had to go outside to get to the basement laundry room. But it was their own home and the access problem was eventually solved by closing in the porch.

In those days the best part of living there, according to Tabon, was her Long Acres community — the neighbors were friendly and took good care of their homes and yards. But things changed a few years later, recalls the 81-year-old widow, when several homeowners moved out and rented their houses. “The drug people started moving in, crime was up and many [residents] were scared,” Tabon said, adding that several homes became dilapidated. These days, the neighborhood is changing again — this time for the better — thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Wake County, the City of Raleigh and several local organizations. In response to Habitat’s survey regarding Long Acres’ primary needs, the city’s Department of Community Development has awarded a portion of the almost $3 million federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) grant it received in 2009 to Habitat Wake for that volunteer organization’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. It includes funds for Habitat’s exterior repair program, A Brush with Kindness, as well as funds for building eight new homes in Long Acres. A similar program is planned for nearby Apollo Heights later this year.

Using Tabon’s two-bedroom home as Habitat’s pilot house for Brush with Kindness, volunteers undertook cleaning and repairs that included power washing the home, repainting the porch and trim and repainting or replacing damaged gutters and shutters. Large branches that covered the roof were cut and a new storm door, handrails and motion sensor lights were installed. In addition to caulking and painting the windows, they cleaned up the yard.On Saturday, June 18, Habitat will hold a neighborhood revitalization event in Long Acres, according to Kerry Celestini, Habitat Wake’s media and marketing manager. “On that day, Habitat and local volunteers will take part in Brush with Kindness projects, new home construction and surveying residents about other neighborhood needs,” she said. A tent will be set up for discussions to include neighborhood watch programs, home ownership opportunities, weatherization and city services.

Tabor describes her home’s transformation in one word — marvelous. As to the increased neighborhood presence of Raleigh police and residential volunteer “street captains” to report suspicious circumstances, a relieved Tabor says, “I feel safer now.” Neighborhood spokesperson Carolyn Highsmith feels more secure too. As a young adult in the 1970s, she lived in her parents’ Long Acres home until she married and moved away. The neighborhood was safer then. But when they returned to live there with their children 14 years ago after inheriting her aunt’s house, she saw drugs sold on street corners and prostitutes hanging around deteriorating, foreclosed houses. “The neighborhood looked bad when we first moved back here,” admitted Highsmith. But with increased security and new residents remodeling their homes and tidying their yards, she explained, the neighborhood has vastly improved. And Highsmith is very enthusiastic about Habitat’s Brush with Kindness program: “A lot of the people here are senior citizens and the [Habitat] volunteers came in and improved the neighborhood.”

Habitat Wake also received a portion of the federal grant from Community Development to build new homes in Long Acres. “We’ve used NSP funds to acquire foreclosed, blighted houses, demolish the houses and transfer the lots to Habitat to build new homes for low-income homebuyers in the Long Acres neighborhood,” explains Raleigh Community Development Planner George Adler. Three new homes are going up in that neighborhood now, another will start next month and construction on four more homes will start in the fall.

One of those homes was purchased by Barbara Gotay, who lived in Puerto Rico and Australia before coming to Raleigh with her two daughters. When the 34-year-old Triangle Transit bus driver moves into her new home, she’ll be more familiar with it than most homebuyers because she’s helping build the house. “The last thing I did was the shingles,” Gotay said, noting that she helped build the walls too. She will also take part in the Brush with Kindness massive effort on June 18, to help her future neighbors with home repairs.

The vision to focus on the Long Acres neighborhood was the brainchild of the City of Raleigh, according to Habitat Wake executive director Kevin Campbell. “We are grateful to the [city’s] community development staff for identifying the neighborhood and applying NSP2 funding to it,” Campbell said. “This was the launch point for this project; it would not have been possible without the city’s in-depth knowledge of the needs as well as their leadership and support.” But that task could not be accomplished without volunteers like Gotay, who can’t wait to move into her new house and be part of the neighborhood. “Long Acres is the place I want to be,” she said. “It feels just like home.”

Habitat Wake’s revitalization partnersLong Acres & Apollo Heights residentsThe City of Raleigh departments: Police, Parks and Recreation, Community Services, Community Development, InspectionsResources for Seniors, provides free weatherizationHomeWorks, provides free critical repair services and served as a superintendent on Habitat’s first Brush with Kindness eventSt. Augustine’s College, provides freshman who need community service hoursSunTrust, provides financial support and volunteersRebuilding Together, provides free critical home repairAccess JobLink AmeriCorps, helped with surveying and has committed to providing career readiness trainingMount Peace Baptist Church, allows Habitat to use its parking lot for volunteers, hosted community and coalition meetingsInterfaith Food Shuttle, delivers groceries to 30 houses in the communityCapital Work Force Development, will set up a job link site at the Ralph Campbell Community Center and provide a career readiness program for area teens.