Grady Appleton doesn’t just want to build new houses.
He wants to rebuild a neighborhood.
Appleton, executive director of East Akron Neighborhood Development Corp. (EANDC), an organization that recently celebrated its 30th year, is thinking big with his latest project, which kicked off Wednesday with a groundbreaking.
This first phase involves the construction of 27 homes where dilapidated houses have been demolished — or soon will be — on 11 streets in East Akron in the area surrounding Robinson elementary. The second phase will include apartments for grandparents raising grandchildren, buildings on Arlington Street with a mix of housing and retail, and new uses for vacant lots, such as flower gardens, rain gardens and paths. The project will involve an investment of about $22 million in private and public funds over the next five years.
“This will be a great place for people to live,” Appleton said at a news conference before the groundbreaking for the housing development, which has been dubbed Robinson Homes East.
The groundbreaking was held at a vacant lot near the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Chittenden Street, where one of the new houses will be built, directly across from Robinson school.
EANDC teamed up with Kent State’s Urban Design Collaborative six months ago to develop a revitalization plan for East Akron, aimed at transforming an aging area of the city dotted with many vacant houses and empty lots where other rundown houses once stood. EANDC purchased 40 properties in the area, some vacant and others with houses that will be demolished, Appleton said.
The first phase of new houses will include 19 with four bedrooms and eight with three bedrooms in five different styles, both one and two story. The homes will be targeted to residents who are at 60 percent of the area median income or below, which is about $34,800 for a family of three. Residents may lease the houses for the first 15 years, with an option to buy.
The rent will be $450 to $600 a month for the three-bedroom homes, which will be 1,300 square feet, and $680 to $700 for the four-bedroom houses, which will be 1,500 square feet, Appleton said.
The East Akron Neighborhood Development Corp. will be the general partner, property manager and service coordinator of the housing development. Testa Builders is the general contractor.
Funding for the project will come from numerous sources, including low-income housing tax credits from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, private equity from multiple banks through the Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing, a NeighborWorks America grant and federal home funds provided by the city of Akron.
Mayor Don Plusquellic pointed out that the city’s contribution to the project involves federal funds that Congress has been cutting and that could be in further jeopardy. He said he wished he had thought to invite representatives from the offices of U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan and Marcia Fudge and Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman to the groundbreaking so they could see firsthand how the funds are being used to leverage private investment in neighborhoods.
“When they cut these programs, we don’t have the ability to do these projects,” Plusquellic said. “This is where it hits the ground. Right here. We need to continue these funds.”
Plusquellic said more investment, not less, is needed in neighborhoods in Akron and other cities.
“The idea that, in America, we could look at places like Youngstown and Detroit as disposable ... Shame on us,” he said.
“What these areas haven’t had is the neighborhood development — the ‘scheming’ — that Appleton has provided,” the mayor continued, referring to his tongue-in-cheek term for Appleton’s plans. “This keeps bringing people back.”
Appleton said his organization is still trying to secure financing for the next phase of the revitalization, which likely also will involve funding from numerous sources. He said he is hoping for many partnerships in the project, such as Robinson school, for example, potentially adopting a community garden.
“It will take a lot of participation from our stakeholders,” he said.
Lenn Harper, a resident who lives on Fourth Avenue, stopped by the groundbreaking to see what the hubbub was about. He’s glad to see money being put into the neighborhood, he said, although other services also are needed.
“What we really need is a laundromat,” he said.
Harper said he also would like to see more of an effort to clean up the area.
Charles Brown, the principal at Robinson, said he has heard from several parents who are excited to see new houses going up and old ones coming down.
“That makes this a place where people want to be,” he said.
Appleton said he’s hoping the new houses will be built by June. Anyone interested in applying may contact EANDC’s property management office at 330-724-1210.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.