June 21, 2013

Opening Brings Back Memories

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Holidays were always special during my childhood growing up in West Palm Beach, FL for all the reasons they are for most people but also because my family shared those special days every year with another family that we were very close to. Every year we would drive across town to get together with our friends, the kids playing in the yard or watching TV while the grown-ups got dinner ready.

That tradition lives on more than 30 years later as we still get together, two families to celebrate, but the location has long since changed from the little house on Cherry Rd. It was to my delight that as I drove to a ribbon cutting ceremony for a single family redevelopment funded through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) I realized that I was back in that old neighborhood that I used to spend many celebrations in.

Since my childhood days the Westgate/Belvedere neighborhood had gone through several transitions going from a middle income working class neighborhood to an area hit hard by the foreclosure crisis, suffering from abandoned homes and skyrocketing crime rates. As I pulled into the neighborhood I began to recall the sights of the 1950s style homes that I grew up playing in. I arrived at my destination, a newly constructed 3 bedroom, 2 bath single family home paid through NSP 2 funds provided by HUD to Palm Beach County, with the county contracting with the Westgate/Belvedere CRA to acquire and develop the property.

This was one of 13 homes the CRA had acquired and either rehabilitated or demolished. This particular home was in such poor condition due to abandonment and neglect that it had to be demolished. What was particularly striking was how well the new structure blended in with the neighborhood. The new house could just as easily have fit in during the 1950’s when the neighborhood came of age, minus the energy efficiency features. It was also apparent that fixing this house had made a huge impact on the overall feel of the neighborhood.

The most fulfilling part was getting a chance to meet the new homeowners, who through down payment assistance and the NSP funding of the structure were able to have a place to call their own. Maybe that family will start new holiday traditions in the Westgate/Belvedere neighborhood. As I drove from the house I couldn’t help driving a few blocks further west to the old house where I used to spend my holidays, including my most memorable Thanksgivings. There it was, fence and all, just as I remembered it.

*Armando Fana is HUD’s Miami Field Office Director

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