Saturday, February 1, 2003

Blighted, house is now a home

By Laura Baverman
Enquirer contributor

[photo] Michelle Wallace and her children (clockwise from bottom center): Moses Harris, 7; Joseph Harris, 11; Recquel Harris, 12; Jamarr Harris, 14; Wallace; Jazmine Harris, 13; Rasean Harris, 8; and Aaron Harris, 9, (center) now have their own home in Hamilton.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
Michelle Wallace is an unemployed, single mother of eight children who has never dreamed of owning her own home.

She has moved her family six times in the past 15 years, forcing her children to change schools and friends and upsetting any possibility of a stable home life.

But in November, the impossible was made possible for the Wallaces. The family was chosen to receive its own home through the city of Hamilton's Receivership Program.

For two years, Hamilton and Hamilton Neighborhood Housing Services (HNHS) have taken a new approach to dealing with decayed or blighted homes. Rather than demolish them, HNHS receives them by a court order, raises the money to refurbish them and provides them to needy families.

Lorie Batdorf, director of development for HNHS, said the program has provided benefits to the city and its residents. By renovating homes, the city saves the cost of demolition and creates a new tax base. New owners are provided with affordable housing, and the neighborhood has one fewer eyesore.

"At one time back in the '80s and early '90s, we were probably demolishing 12 to 15 houses a year. Now it's only three to five a year," said Dr. William Karwisch, the director of public health for Hamilton.

The program seeks to renovate 20 houses each year of the 160 homes declared blighted in the city.

At the start of the program in 2000, City Council allocated $100,000 toward the program. After a year, the city could no longer provide that sum.

But HNHS has existed without the aid, receiving homes by court order; by donation; or by clearing the tax liens of owners, who can sign over the deed to HNHS in return for having tax debts erased.

After receiving the homes, HNHS raises the money to renovate.

Renovation of the Wallaces' home at 613 Heaton St. will be funded by an art auction to be held March 27. Organized by Sherry Armstead, the owner of Art on Symmes, an art studio, the auction will showcase the work of the 88 artists she represents.

Signed portraits of Reds players Barry Larkin, Sean Casey and Ken Griffey Jr. and singer John Mellencamp also will be sold.

"The best way to help a family like this is to give them the stability of their own home," Armstead said.

She believes the benefit will raise $35,000 to $40,000 for the renovations.

Wallace said she will be grateful for whatever sum is raised, because the gift of a home for her family is more than she could ever ask for.

"I never dreamed that someone, somewhere would go out of their way to get a house for my family," she said.

Although the move from her current home in Northside to Hamilton, a city she knows little about, will be tough, she is excited to start over and finally work toward stabilizing her family.

She's also thankful that HNHS provides home ownership classes so she can learn how to maintain her home. The organization has also offered to help her find job opportunities.

HNHS' low delinquency rates show the program to be a success. The organization attributes this to educating homeowners, provision of loans for first-time homebuyers, and their willingness to give low-income prospects a chance to own a home.

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