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Group of real estate agents, developers unveil initiative to bring more affordable housing to South Bend

Jakob Lazzaro
Steve Smith (left), the head of Irish Realty, speaks about the Bendr initiative with Joe Petty (right).

Several developers, real estate agents, mortgage lenders, modular home suppliers and housing advocates met in South Bend Friday to discuss a new affordable housing initiative.

Steve Smith is the head of Irish Realty and has been working as a real estate agent in South Bend for 17 years.

He said South Bend’s Black and Brown residents are 15 to 20 percent less likely to own a home than the city’s white residents, and that a lot of people who could buy just aren’t sure how to do so in such a hot market.

Ashley Hairston, another realtor, agrees.

“I’m the very first homeowner in my family,” Hairston said. “Giving back to my community is giving them the resources I didn’t have as a homebuyer.”

And so, they’ve joined other industry stakeholders to create Bendr, a new affordable housing initiative. Smith said it’ll pair financial education with new housing options.

“You’re going to get a whole team of people that are gonna help you get there,” Smith said. “You want to get there? We’re going to get you there.”

Shane Inez, another founder, said the plan has three phases — first, they’ll rehab existing homes that just need $20,000 to $25,000 worth of work.

Smith said that will be 70 to 80 percent of the effort, and the group has already placed six people in rehabbed homes.

The next step is infill development on vacant lots around the city using modular, or manufactured, homes.

Inez said they’re not going with traditional construction because material and labor costs would make the homes too expensive.

“The project would no longer be affordable — it would be in the $300,000 range,” Inez said. “If we’re going to reimagine our neighborhoods, we also have to reimagine the housing we use. Modular homes are homes.”

In contrast, he said a one-to-three-bedroom modular home would cost between $100,000 to $150,000, and people would pay between $750 and $1,200 a month in mortgage costs.

2302 W Smith St. Proposed Site Plan.png
Draft floor plan of a three-bedroom manufactured home.

Smith said the group currently owns 20 vacant lots in South Bend and plans to have a model home built this summer, either on Taylor Street near Tippecanoe Place or on the city’s northwest side near Olive and Elmer streets.

Once the model home opens, Inez said they will start selling similar homes, with the first of those being built at the end of this year or early next year.

The final plan is building a full mini neighborhood of those modular homes, called the Village of Ashland.

The group is currently looking for a large plot of open land — possibly near the city cemetery, just west of the airport or near the Four Winds Casino on the far southwest side.

The initiative is a for-profit endeavor, but Smith said the profits will be reinvested in the business and fund the educational programs.

“There’s a difference between windfall profits, robber baron profits, and appropriate profits,” Smith said. “We really want the efforts that we do to be sustainable, self-sustaining, reproducible and therefore scalable. Last year, we put six people in homes and did 20 lots. We want to get to 100. We want to get to 1,000.”

Inez said the group meets on the third Friday of every month at 8:30 a.m. in the IMPower Center on South Bend’s west side and is always looking for more community input and collaboration from people in related industries.

To join the group’s email list, visit

Contact Jakob at or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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