Homeport’s Special Recipe: Building Community, Not Just Homes

By Tonya Young, Relationship Coordinator at Homeport

Homeport is a nonprofit organization that provides quality, energy-efficient, affordable home ownership opportunities to households of varying incomes.  We work hard to invigorate and create positive change in the community, incorporating a unique approach to community revitalization that involves getting to know the neighborhood.   We gain trust and facilitate cohesiveness among the residents through a collaborative planning and design process that brings stakeholders together in community development.  Resident Engagement Specialists survey the residents and create programs that build capacity and ultimately bring low-income individuals and communities out of poverty.  When residents are included and have a chance to provide input on what’s happening in their neighborhood, they gain a stronger sense of pride and belonging.

By targeting a neighborhood’s most neglected properties, we are able to have the greatest impact and opportunity for stable growth.  Homeport is achieving stability with home ownership in the NoBo/King-Lincoln District.  Since 2004, we have redeveloped a blighted street into an attractive, mixed-income neighborhood by using the right blend of City support, neighborhood participation, and effective real estate development.  The area is now home to a diverse mix of residents – a variety of professions, incomes, and ethnic backgrounds.  By year’s end, almost 100 families will have had the chance to call the Near East Side their home. 

Homeport’s not just building great homes, we are also an established neighborhood leader, connecting residents with one another, services, and resources.  Homeport helped establish the NoBo Residents Association, provided coordination of the NoBo Green Space and, in conjunction with Mt. Vernon Avenue AME Church, the NoBo Community Garden.  All of which help build the community and strengthen neighborhood pride. 

During an interview, long-time NoBo resident Chuck Minter said,

“Homeport came in and made every effort to get me up to speed to be a part of the revitalization of the neighborhood…To be a neighbor, it doesn’t cost a lot – just a little bit of friendliness.  And now I see that happening in my neighborhood all the time.”

Collaboration, innovation, and economic development are all important to weaving the fabric and culture of the neighborhood into our work.  NoBo boasts not only the 1st recycled street in the City of Columbus – comprised of over 200 recycled tires – but also one of the highest performing green homes in Ohio.  This green home developed by Homeport is the first LEED Platinum home in Ohio.  After nine years of revitalizing the neighborhood, we are working with the City of Columbus to expand our efforts in NoBo – focusing on streets not yet served and building bridges between the blocks of established social infrastructure.

At Homeport, we know a neighborhood is more than homes – it’s also the vibrant surroundings that attract visitors and business.  Alongside the Lincoln Theatre on Long Street, the Homeport Gallery showcases local artists, offers public meeting space, and brings energy to the neighborhood.  Several joint marketing initiatives exist between Homeport and the numerous new businesses and cafes in the area. 

After almost a century of neglect and disinvestment, new life is finally being breathed into the American Addition community. Thanks to the attention from Mayor Coleman in his 2011 State of the City Address, our plan to revitalize the neighborhood could finally lift off the ground.  In February 2012, Homeport Home Ownership finished building the first 6 of over 100 homes planned over 10 years. The neighborhood will also benefit from the first residential applications of green infrastructure designed specifically for a residential setting in the City of Columbus. Significant infrastructure improvements including new streets, sidewalks, and the City’s first eco-friendly storm water drainage system will all be part of making this community a vibrant and healthy place to live. 

There are many different ingredients that go into making a place people want to call home.  One piece of the pie is adding rental homes to communities as a way to help gain critical mass.  Creating affordable rental opportunities is the basis for stability for families and communities.  Once people have a consistent place to lay their head, they can focus on their jobs, relationships, and futures.  Stable homes are important for individual successes because a home recharges adults and children alike for the day ahead; it’s important for children to learn and achieve more in school; for healthy habits to take root; for public safety; and it’s crucial to a strong job generating economy.

Homeport has a vision of a central Ohio where every resident lives in a vibrant community: Each person lives in an affordable, quality, energy efficient home in a safe and desirable neighborhood where neighbors know each other and are empowered to work together to enrich their lives and impact their community; families have the education and resources to be successful where they live; children have a quiet place to study and can safely play outside; and people are inspired to have dreams and shape their future.

Story originally appeared in the September/October 2013 publication of In Contract here: