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Chasing The Dream: Nonprofits Help House Low-Income People, Revitalize Neighborhoods

This week, in our Chasing the Dream series, we’ve met families facing eviction, possible homelessness and desperation over shoddy houses.

And although federal, state and city governments help tens of thousands of Jacksonville residents get homes, there’s higher demand than there is inventory.

But in the last story in our series, WJCT talks to the people working to create more affordable housing while revitalizing the communities around it.  

Northwest of downtown Jacksonville, a couple blocks from Stanton High School, Paul Tutwiler was recently walking through a large, dirt-covered block. This site used to hold some apartments.

“It was 38 units of hodgepodge, investor-driven properties that catered, unfortunately, to the unsavory types,” he said.




As head of the nonprofit Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation, Tutwiler is planning to build single-family homes here. A colorful sign at one corner announces the planned development called Payne Avenue Walk.

“So we’re able to restore the dream that many people in this community — when they bought here — originally wanted to have: just a good, quiet home to enjoy,” Tutwiler said.

Credit Jessica Palombo / WJCT
Bishop E. M. Johnson of Grace and Truth CDC shows off plans for a senior housing development.

Down payments and closing costs on the homes will be subsidized through the city’s Head Start to HOME ownership program, which uses federal dollars.

Community development corporations use lots of funding sources — government, charitable foundations and private — to meet neighborhoods’ affordable housing and economic development needs.

After starting with houses, the Northwest Jax CDC built the North Point Town Center strip mall five years ago at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Moncrief Road. The CDC’s headquarters are upstairs in the mall.

“People said, ‘OK, that’s great you’re building housing, but what about jobs? We need jobs,' ” said Northwest Jax CDC Chief Operating Officer Dara Davis. She said people are starting to take pride in the neighborhood again. They recently dubbed this area "The District of Soul."  

Jessica Palombo / WJCT
LISC Jacksonville Executive Director Janet Owens says her organization is often working "behind the scenes" of neighborhood revitalization.

“We want to be named and known for our heritage and history instead of some of the negative connotations that are out there,” she said. “So when you hear District of Soul, know that you’re talking about the Northwest quadrant of Jacksonville.”

Economic decline hit hard here after the city and county consolidated services in the late 1960s and the middle class fled to the suburbs.

One Jacksonville native, Bishop E.M. Johnson, watched the effects of poverty firsthand and decided to do something about it as head of another CDC called Grace and Truth. His church and the CDC office are off Norwood Avenue.

“We said, ‘What’s the greatest need besides spiritual help? The next-greatest need is housing, a place to lay your head,' ” he recalled.

Grace and Truth has helped 80 families buy or rehab homes in the area called North Brookside.

Credit Jessica Palombo / WJCT
An architect's rendering shows plans for an expanded shopping district at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Moncreif Road.

“And a lot of them are first-generation homebuyers,” Johnson says. “Mama didn’t have a home. Mama before mama didn’t have a home. So here I am, four generations down the road, and finally we have a home. And that, to me, means so, so much.”

But affordable-housing nonprofits are all competing for the same scarce funding.

Shannon Nazworth heads up another CDC called Ability Housing, which specializes in helping people with disabilities.

Credit Jessica Palombo / WJCT
Grace and Truth CDC plans to convert the old Norwood School into a senior housing development.

“Because the HUD budget has been cut and because the population has grown and the inventory of affordable housing has not remotely kept pace, we just need more federal resources targeted to providing affordable housing,” she said.

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid attorney Katherine Hanson agrees, subsidized housing has been “woefully” underfunded nationwide for decades.

“The people who bear the brunt of that lack of funding are the single moms with kids and the disabled people in Jacksonville,” she said.

But there is more help available to get affordable housing built.

Janet Owens heads up Jacksonville’s Local Initiatives Support Corporation.


“We’re typically behind the scenes,” she said.

LISC helps CDCs attract developers by securing funding through a national lending pool. Lowering the risk for developers gets things built in areas where the private market doesn’t want to invest, she said.

“Our goal is to make neighborhoods places where anyone coming into the Jacksonville community would want to live,” she said.

And she believes Jacksonville is luckier than many cities. The local housing authority is one of the best in the South, she said, and it manages 10,000 units of public housing that are maintained better than most.

Michelle Corum contributed reporting for this story. 

Funding for Chasing the Dream is provided by the JPB Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP