As magnolia and oak trees cast enough shade to protect the people sending up prayers of gratitude on the last afternoon of March, there was enough sunshine to illuminate the North Riverside residence that will remain in the Daniels family for years to come.
“This means a whole lot to me. I needed a kitchen floor and they did my floor,” Annie Daniels says. “My bathroom was rotting out and they did that. It means a whole lot to me. I appreciate everything they did.”
Annie Daniels has lived in the gray home with white lattice shutters for more than 60 years. Her home on Crystal Street is the first to be renovated through the North Riverside Community Development Corporation Home Repair Program. The $1.2 million program is aimed at helping residents improve their home values in a neighborhood by the banks of McCoys Creek that is in the shadow of the Emerald Trail project and in the crosshairs of developers.
The CDC plans to renovate 45 other homes as well. Applications are still being accepted.
To qualify, a homeowner must be caught up on their property taxes, have the title to the home and it must be their primary residence. And, of course, they must live in North Riverside.
Between $5,000 and $20,000 will go to each selected homeowner to be used to replace walls, remediate mold and provide other improvements — including electrical, plumbing and HVAC repair — that could potentially lower their utility bill.
The neighborhood is between I-10 and Beaver Street and its western border is McDuff Avenue. It’s an area that includes Lackawanna and Mixon Town, and business owners have branded it the Rail Yard District.
“We wanted to get the trust from the North Riverside community. And that’s what we’ve done,” North Riverside CDC President Shirley Thomas says in Daniels’ kitchen. “We thank them so much and we thank God, first of all, we thank the United Way and we are thankful for everyone. We are just so thankful for what everyone has done for us.”
The North Riverside CDC Home Repair Program started in 2021 and received a financial injection earlier this year when Groundwork USA awarded a $400,000 grant and LISC Jacksonville and the Edna Sproull Williams Fund committed another $200,000. The United Way of Northeast Florida matched both, bringing in a total of $1.2 million for the home repair program.
Applications to the program are reviewed by a committee that includes LISC Jacksonville Housing Resiliency Program Officer John Sapora, Groundwork Jacksonville’s Community Equity & Engagement Manager Gloria McNair and members of the North Riverside CDC board.
When the United Way of Northeast Florida announced it would form an affordable housing task force in January, it also announced it would devote an initial $1 million toward rehabilitating owner-occupied homes in predominantly Black neighborhoods. United Way is also devoting an additional $300,000 to the Eastside Restore & Repair Program and another $100,000 to help families clear up heirs rights resolutions.
The money for the repairs flows through the local nonprofits from uncoupled billionaires Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, and his ex-wife, Mackenzie Scott. The Bezos Earth Fund awarded the grant to Groundwork, and the United Way monies are part of a $20 million gift from Scott in 2020.
This work, United Way of Northeast Florida CEO Melanie Patz says, will reduce the racial disparities in homeownership.
United Way believes that providing repairs raises homes’ value and makes people less likely to move out of their homes, some of which have been in families for generations.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 74.5% of white households across the country last year were homeowners. That percentage dropped to 48.5% for Hispanics, 44.9% for Blacks and 58.3% for people of other races.
In Duval County, the percentage of white, Black and Hispanic homeowners is disproportionate to the population. In 2021, the most recent year statistics were available, 63.5% of “owner-occupied housing units” in the county were white, with 22.6% Black and 7.4% Hispanic. Meanwhile, 60.0%of Duval County residents were white, 31.1% were Black and 11.3% were Hispanic.
“With the help of our partners, we’re ensuring residents who have lived in these neighborhoods for decades — or even generations — can safely and sustainably remain in their homes, while taking a critical first step toward building wealth and improving their economic mobility,” Patz said in a January statement.
Daniels’ 1,100-square-foot home was built in 1951. She has been the sole owner for more than 40 years. Her grandson, Zarian, who uses a wheelchair, lives with her.
When contractors widened the door frame between his room and the kitchen as well as the door frame between the kitchen and living area, it gave Zarian additional mobility.
“It just fills my heart to see people come in and help me like they did because I didn’t have any idea they would,” Daniels says. “After all the years I’ve been waiting and waiting and trying to get it. Finally, I got it.”
Previously, Daniels, or a caretaker, would have to lift Zarian out of his wheelchair, cross the threshold, then seat him if he wanted to head to the living area to watch television or converse with others. Now there are days when he sits on the front porch in peace.
“It’s like being independent, because first I couldn’t go through something and now I can,” Zarian says. “It means a whole lot to me. It’s a blessing. I like every bit of it.”
The home repair program also leveled the home’s floor, installed accessible light switches, secured the exit door and provided energy-efficient light fixtures.
“It’s like financial freedom,” Zarian says. “Now, there’s no locked doors. When you can’t go through a door, it’s like you’re on the outside looking in. When you can go through it, now you’re on the inside looking out. It’s a big difference (and) another point of view. “I can go in the kitchen and look inside the refrigerator. I don’t have to ask what’s in it.”
Interested in applying? The North Riverside CDC will hold a homeowners’ workshop on April 20 at 6 p.m. at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church. In addition to info about the home repair program, the CDC will also talk about dealing with unsolicited offers to sell your home, how to obtain the title to your home if you don’t have it, and how to pay back property taxes.