Home Repairs Strengthen Community Ties In South Bend
The city of South Bend hopes to help homeowners on the west side, by increasing the amount of funds available for home rehabs, as well as new builds through the Home Repair Pilot Program. Homeowners in a specific part of town will be able to apply for almost $20,000 dollars in assistance for home renovation projects. But the new program has impacted more than just home repairs in this community.
Stacey Odom considers herself an activist for her community on South Bend’s West Side.
“I never thought that somebody was going to be me,” she said.
Odom says at the time she was caring for her sick mother, brother and sister.
“In my opinion I was already committed to my family,” she said, “And I didn’t have an ounce of time to give to anyone else for anybody else.”
But she says her mother’s home was soon in danger of being demolished to make way for new projects in the area.
“My family came here in the forties,” Odom said, “This would be the second time that redevelopment came through and we could’ve lost our home.”
After talking to neighbors, and her mom, she says she became a part of a group that surveyed area homeowners to assess home repairs. According to Odom, the survey concluded that a total of 60 rehabs and 28 new homes could be built to revitalize the neighborhood and increase property values. Odom says the project isn’t just about homes, but about family legacies as well.
“These people have at least three or four generations in the home,” she said, “I guess we just never knew how to engage and ask the city or other people for help, but now we found our way and that’s what we’re doing now.”
Odom says knowing those that represent her in local government played a big role in her involvement and the way she now sees her role as an activist in her community.
One of those people is Councilmember Regina Williams-Preston.
Preston says she became a councilmember during a time she describes as ‘stalled’.
“People were apathetic,” she said, “They felt like the city wasn’t listening to them. I just had a much different approach.”
Williams-Preston says her approach was self sufficiency in the community, helping gather volunteers and approach city government as a unit. She says she noticed a lot of homeowners in the area weren’t able to keep up with home renovation costs. The issue really hit home for her when her husband became ill and she was facing sanctions from code enforcement for repairs on her home she couldn’t take care of immediately.
“The language was, these people aren’t fixing up their homes, they’re irresponsible,” Williams-Preston says, “It’s not that we’re irresponsible, we don’t have the money, we work hard every single day, but we don’t make enough because of low wages in Indiana, we don’t make enough to save the money to fix our roof, but we make too much to qualify for low-income federal grants, so we’re kind of stuck in the middle.”
Williams-Preston says she began to look for help from the city. She says in her first year as a council member, South Bend budgeted money to help residents fix their homes. She says immediately residents all over South Bend got involved and created a series of forums, where residents who could benefit from the pilot program, could share their concerns. Along with added state funds and lead abatement initiatives, the city was able to add more to the budget this year.
Alkeyna Aldridge is the Director of Engagement and Economic Empowerment for South Bend. She says she would describe her role Director of Engagement as the work of a sort of liaison between her community and city hall.
“I joke I’m an angry West Side Resident on one hand,” she said, “I grew up in this experience I understand it personally, but I’m a budding bureaucrat, who gets to do this work everyday that touches folks very personally.”
She says she’s excited about being able to work on the Home Repair Pilot Program because it can help create immediate change that residents have worked toward.
The Home Repair Pilot Program is available to residents in a specific area on South Bend’s West Side. Deadline for applications from those who qualify is September 28th. More information is available on the city’s website.