Dream they did — they always have — the poetic and simple dream of living in a house by the side of the road and being a friend to man.
However, James and Sheila Harris of Barberton, who had lived so long in public housing, never thought it possible to ever own a home.
But lo and behold, some folks in the position to make their impossible dream possible were watching the Harrises, longtime tenants of Neighborhood Conservation Services of Barberton, over the years when they didn’t even know it. They saw that the Harrises were good people, devoted to their family, even taking custody of their great-grandson, and they took care of their apartment like it was golden.
So, without ever having asked, the Harrises were moving into their first home on April 1.
The dream maker is the 33-year-old Neighborhood Conservation Services, with C. Tomas “Tom” Anders, executive director; Joe Peters, president; and Greg Matheny, treasurer, playing the lead roles. Matheny, a disabled military veteran, liked the idea of helping James Harris, a disabled Marine Corps veteran.
Last year NCS was contacted by the children of the former owners of a Central Avenue home on the city’s north side, Anders explained. “They said they didn’t want the property, which was in bad disrepair, and wanted to know if we wanted to take it as a donation … We brought the city out for an inspection.”
NCS was given the green light to make the necessary repairs on the two-bedroom house, built in 1929, to bring it up to code. So they went to work, with strong financial assistance from the Barberton Community Foundation.
“Barberton Community Foundation invests in Neighborhood Conservation Services through its program-related investments,” Anders said. “The Barberton Community Foundation makes program-related investments to help satisfy the mission of the foundation. Most of these investments are loans, related to either economic or neighborhood development.”
The beauty of the program is that the investment is in people who, for one reason or another, don’t qualify for traditional bank loans. The Harrises will make payments on the house to NCS, which in turn will pay back the loan from the foundation.
“This is a genuine heartwarming story,” Anders said, delighting in every word.
“NCS had many partners in making this happen. The Alcoa plant supplied hundreds of hours of donated time to clear the property, which was severely overgrown, built a new front porch and back patio, along with a small grant. CC Supply donated seamless spouting; Barberton Tree Service removed excessive tree growth; The Cardinal Companies supplied four large dumpsters. And many of the board members and staff of NCS donated many hours of labor.”
Matheny, I learned, practically lived at the Central Avenue property as new life was being breathed into it.
The work on the property was massive, including a new roof and waterproofing the basement, including repairs to one of its walls. “This involved the house being jacked up,” Matheny said, adding that the basement project alone cost nearly $10,000.
Other work included electrical, plumbing, a new driveway, kitchen remodeling complete with hardwood floors and the addition of a second-floor dormer that the couple’s great-grandson, Lataevon Gates, has claimed for his own.
The work, which began in earnest in October, was completed March 31.
“Tom and Greg were the real pushers of this project,” Peters said, adding that without their intervention, the home probably would have been torn down as part of the city’s aggressive Project Impact, which removes vacant and decaying houses.
NCS’s goal was to rehab one of those properties, to restore it and make it livable again. Anders, Peters and Matheny see it as a win-win situation: a chance to get people in a home, and to keep the city’s tax base up rather than turning the space into a vacant lot.
“I understand that some homes — vacant or foreclosed — have to be torn down,” Anders noted.
“They call that blight,” Matheny chimed in.
“Every time that happens, [a teardown] the city loses a portion of its tax base, money to support the schools … The more families we can get moving in means whatever income they have, they’re spending it in the community in which they live.”
NCS — working with FirstEnergy and East Ohio Gas — also was able to distribute new stoves and refrigerators to some 200 units in the Van Buren Homes public housing. Summit County appointed NCS to administer the project.
Anders, Peters and Matheny said they would like to partner with the Barberton Community Foundation to do other projects involving dilapidated houses in the future.
“Our goal is to do everything we can to help make this a better community and a better world,” Peters said. “We want to give every deserving person the opportunity to be part of a neighborhood.”
“I love that I now have my own house,” a beaming Sheila Harris said, standing in her kitchen with all new appliances. “I love having a yard and doing yardwork. But mostly we’re excited to give our 10-year-old great-grandson a home.” The couple has had him since he was 5.
The Harrises, apart from making monthly loan payments, have a list of projects they’re required to address at their new home, painting chief among them.
Knowing the Harrises’ history of upkeep, NCS has every confidence in the job they’ll do.
After all, it is their permanent address, the home they dreamed about but thought they’d never have.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.