Affordable housing organization taking the lead in building homes, restructuring lives
By Gordon Jackson
It may be one of the greatest turn-a-rounds of an inner city community in the country. House by house, block by block, West Dallas is changing, distinctly for the better.
A lot of determination and grit by several community and housing organizations and churches have served as the catalyst for the neighborhood’s illuminating revitalization. Builders of Hope is included among those groups.
“It’s all going uphill. We’ve been in the valley; now we’re going to the mountaintop,” said Patrick Crawford, a new homebuyer and West Dallas resident.
Bordered by Interstate 30 on the south, Loop 12/Walton Walker Road on the west, Interstate 35 on the east and the Trinity River on the north, West Dallas was once slated as one of the country’s poorest and most blighted neighborhoods in the nation. Jobs were scarce and crime was high. Several lead smelter plants located in the area once polluted the air and poisoned many who lived near them.
West Dallas was once one of the heavily African American and Hispanic sectors of the city suffering from discrimination and racially-based negative perceptions that kept development out for several decades.
Hard core lovers of the community did not give up. Class action lawsuits eventually closed down most of the lead plants. Fresh new political leaders, many of them people of color, started making the area a top priority and grassroots community organizations finally started winning both political and commerce-related battles to draw positive economic development.
The most glaring and visible difference has been seen in housing. Over the past decade, modern-day and attractive housing units, both public and private, both single- and multi-family, have replaced barrack-like projects complexes, once eyesores to the community’s look and feel.
“At the present time, the big improvement is the homes themselves, knowing that economic development would come,” said Rev. Arrvel Wilson, pastor of West Dallas Community Church. A staple in the West Dallas Community, Wilson’s church also runs the West Dallas Community Development Inc. and the West Dallas Community School. “I also see the hope of new jobs coming as you bring in new businesses.”
Wilson further credits Builders of Hope Community Development Corporation, who got in the fight from the beginning. Its founder, Norman Henry, first started making changes through Voices of Hope Ministries in 1982, helping youths and their families with resources and life skills to fight and overcome the community’s ills from poverty.
“His passion and drive came from helping kids,” said Willard Mardenborough, BOH’s Community Sales Manager. “He saw that, with some of the kids that they had, he was able to go to some of their homes and saw the need for building homes in West Dallas. There was a lack of homes and the ones there wasn’t sufficient or in good condition.”
That’s when Voices of Hope Ministries transformed into Voice of Hope Community Development Corporation in 1998. Henry and the board of directors changed the name to Builders of Hope CDC in 2002. Starting with building a couple of homes, the organization has boomed to their current major project, a 72-unit single family subdivision in West Dallas’ Eagle Ford community.
Now, the next step: bringing in homebuyers. But it’s the kind of new home owners BOH is targeting: many of the same West Dallas and other low- to moderate-income residents who still believe there’s such a thing as quality inner city. They include the single parent and blue-collar worker who’s rented all of their life.
BOH’s goal: transform them into homeowners.
“We saw the vision of showing that person how simple it is to own their home and give them affordable and quality housing,” said Mardenborough. “As far as affordability, we wanted to help people like first-time buyers and single moms, who didn’t have the right home to live in to build their self-worth.
“It’s not all about selling a home, it’s about someone building a community relationship, someone working with one goal of helping someone else.”
A free BOH First-time Homebuyers seminar covers every inch of ground of what it takes to be a homeowner. Several skilled professionals are brought in, such as a tax specialist, mortgage lender and a credit management specialist who helps the prospect set a budget.
“A person can say they want to buy a home but may have never thought it out completely. This gives them a comprehensive education process. Even if they may not quality at that time, they’re a better person for it.”
The quality of the home is also important, something BOH has taken very seriously. Comparing with other companies, Mardenborough said: “Usually they build affordable homes, but the quality is lacking.”
High-energy efficient homes, with solar boards and solar decking in place, are some of the extra steps taken by BOH, according to Mardenborough. Their homes also use more lumber per inch than other builders with higher grades of windows, insulation and air conditioning standards.
“The thing is to see someone who thought they could never get a quality home and to see their faces when they sign over the documents and they get the keys to their home,” Mardenborough said. “And it’s not a tacky home, we’re talking about solid brick.”
Patrick and Antoinette Crawford share those sentiments. Before they became a couple, they were both raised in West Dallas, but their separate lives took them out to live in other parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Still, as young adults, their love to nurture and improve the community drew them back to their church, Greater Mt. Olive Church of God in Christ, and other social endeavors.
“We did everything on this side (of town),” Antoinette said. “We were always coming back out here. Our church is out here so it only made sense for us to be here and do everything in the community.”
Patrick, a construction worker, wanted to stay close his father, especially after his mother died.
The couple, married for three years, after a three-year courtship, realized that buying a home in West Dallas would “complete them.” They went to Builders of Hope, with whom Patrick was already familiar, having formerly worked with the organization in their youth programs. Despite not qualifying in their first application, the Crawfords persisted.
“There were times in the process that we kind of got frustrated and wanted to give up,” said Antoinette. “With them, they just kept you motivated. We decided to just keep going and be patient.”
Finally, they were approved and began a rigorous but successful three-month process. Last month, they, along with daughters Xyondria, 2 and Daja, 7 months, moved into their $125,000 three-bedroom, two-bath home in Eagle Ford, complete with a one-car garage and spacious backyard. Their total loan package included grants that covered their down payment and closing costs. They’ve returned to their home community, more excited than ever to strive and make West Dallas a better place to live and work, in their own way.
“We just about know everybody in the neighborhood. It’s more like there’s no lack in terms of being able to get things done,” said Patrick. “That’s always a plus to be able to effect your community directly.”
“When someone purchases a home, there’s a responsibility that comes with it,” Mardenborough explained. “So, yes, they want to perform better at their jobs, make sure they do all the necessary things to keep their homes. They become better citizens and try not to do ignorant things to lose the home.
“This helps the entire community and city. You help someone get into a home you’re building communities and relationships with other individuals. You’re building neighborhoods. They tend to look out for each other, wanting to help each other out. It’s a rippling effect.”
The Eagle Ford community is in West Dallas’ southwest corner, near where I-30 and Loop 12 intersects. Pinnacle Park, a 900-acre major retail and business district, along with Pinnacle Pointe, across the highway, are all short distances from the community; even walkable in good-weather days.
Other parts of west Dallas continues to flourish as well. Bridges that connect the community, north from Hampton Road and east from I-35, are being expanded and built for easier traffic access from downtown and North Dallas. The Dallas Housing Authority, which has championed the cause of quality public housing, has its attractive headquarters down Hampton Road, along with the Lakewest YMCA.
The community’s newest jewel – a brand new Mattie Nash/ Myrtle Davis Recreation Center – is highly anticipated. The 21,000 square foot facility will feature a NCAA regulation basketball court, weight room, multipurpose room and computer lab. Construction is scheduled to begin this month to be completed in one year.
All such amenities are working together, complementing Builders of Hope’s initiatives to not just build homes, but quality lives.
“The affordable market is still the best market to be in,” said Mardenborough. “Because, if you properly educate the buyers and how to keep their homes, what they need to do with the upkeeps and follow throughs, they’ll commit to it.
“Some of these people’s family members never had a home, so it brings a special status to them. They’ll say now I have a home; I don’t have to rent and pay someone else’s mortgage. When I close the door, I know it’s mine, I can live there as long as I want.”
Builders of Hope will hold a First-Time Homebuyers Workshop in March 14, at their Model Home, at 4114 Chippewa Drive in Dallas. For more information, call 214-915-9522 or, to register, email email@example.com.