October 12, 2011

Project Rebuild: In Richmond and Columbus, a Case for the American Jobs Act

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Mayor Dwight Jones (right) joins Secretary Donovan to tour the Cherry Hill neighborhood in Richmond, VA. HUD funding made possible the rehabilitation of three abandoned homes that once threatened to destabilize the entire neighborhood.

Last week, Secretary Donovan visited Richmond, VA and Columbus, OH to see firsthand how previous neighborhood stabilization efforts have helped revitalize neighborhoods, create jobs,  stabilize home prices, and stimulate  local economies. It was a chance to see the impact HUD has had in neighborhoods that were affected by the foreclosure crisis and also demonstrate how the American Jobs Act and Project Rebuild would allow cities all over America to continue revitalizing neighborhoods.

On Wednesday, the Secretary joined Mayor Dwight Jones of Richmond, VA to tour the 800 block of 27th Street, in the city’s Church Hill neighborhood. Here, three tidy houses are home to new neighbors: two schoolteachers and one heavy equipment operator. Their cheerful dwellings have replaced another three buildings which not long ago languished, vacant and dilapidated – creating a chilling effect that stretched across a whole neighborhood, depressing home values and keeping prospective buyers at bay. A developer leveraged HUD funding to rehabilitate these units in a project that brought $47,260 in revenue to Richmond, created 90 construction jobs, and patched a small blemish with the potential to destabilize an entire neighborhood.

Secretary Donovan talks with Mayor Michael Coleman (left) and National Church Residences President Tom Slemmer (right) on site at Columbus, OH's Commons at Third. By the time the Commons at Third -- which will ultimately provide housing to 100 homeless and disabled low-income people -- is completed, it will have generated 90 construction jobs. Image courtesy of National Church Residences.

Two days later, the Secretary took another tour, this time alongside Senator Sherrod Brown and Mayor Michael Coleman in Columbus, OH. The three visited 1286 Norton Avenue, which was once an abandoned lumber yard. Now plywood, cement blocks, and the sounds of construction signal that something’s taking shape – something that will employ another 90 construction workers and breathe new life into a vacant part of town. It’s called the Commons at Third, and HUD funds made it possible. Come 2012, the Commons at Third will offer a safe haven where 100 of Columbus’s homeless and disabled low-income citizens can get the shelter, job training, and case management they need to find a fresh start in life.

Revenue for communities, jobs for the unemployed, quality places for Americans to call home, and struggling swaths of cities restored to stable ground: It’s tough to take a look at Cherry Hill or the Commons at Third and ignore positive difference made by HUD’s neighborhood stabilization efforts and the private investments they’ve spurred. Zoom the lens out from Richmond and Columbus to take a look at the whole country, and you’ll discover that similar projects are on track to create 90,000 jobs and address more than 95,000 vacant and abandoned properties across the country. And if Congress passes President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act, HUD will do even more.

By now, you’ve probably heard the American Jobs Act. Project Rebuild – a core component of the act –would build upon HUD’s track record of success and draw from lessons learned to create nearly 200,000 jobs and stabilize home prices in neighborhoods hit hard by foreclosures.

Project Rebuild would make successes like those the Secretary toured last week a reality in communities across the country, putting people to work rehabilitating abandoned and foreclosed homes and buildings and helping reduce or eliminate the toll the housing crisis has taken on so many Americans. After all, families who’ve gone through foreclosures aren’t the only ones affected. Living on the same block as a single foreclosure can knock as much as $10,000 off a home’s value.

As successful as HUD’s neighborhood stabilization efforts have already been, Project Rebuild is poised to expand its impact with innovations based on lessons learned. For example, Project Rebuild will include more private sector participation, allowing the rehabilitation of commercial properties, and will forge stronger partnerships with non-profit organizations.

President Obama’s inclusion of Project Rebuild in the American Jobs Act reflects this administration’s belief that rebuilding neighborhoods is central to rebuilding the economy. Those who call Church Hill home could certainly tell you that even the smallest, most targeted neighborhood stabilization efforts can make a huge difference for the nearby families who – through no fault of their own – see their home values tumble.

Project Rebuild is more than investment in neighborhoods. It’s an investment in the Americans who call them home.

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