By Anthony Cook
Three new homeowners are looking forward to getting the keys to their homes after a ribbon-cutting Thursday at the newly developed Oak Hill area of Belview Heights in Ensley.
The ceremony was the culmination of an objective by Mayor Randall Woodfin to revitalize Birmingham communities through affordable homeownership. It was made possible by a $25 million public-private partnership between the city of Birmingham and the NCRC Housing Rehab Fund, also known as GROWTH by NCRC (Generating Real Opportunities for Work Through Housing).
“Today not only do we celebrate homeownership,” Woodfin said. “We celebrate the power of investing in our communities.”
The new homeowners are Rosemary Thomas, Augustus Payne and William Hardy III. Theirs were the first three of the 27 affordable new homes in the historic Belview Heights community to get owners. The new project, located at the former site of the Camelia Terrace Apartments near the 1100 block of 51st Street Ensley, features affordable single-family homes ranging from 1,227-1,700 square feet, starting from $179,900.
“I’m so thankful, I really am,” Thomas said about her new home. “Me and my daughter were riding, looking for a house to rent when we saw all these lots, and I just called. (Everyone involved) has been real good to me.”
As the houses were being constructed, Thomas said she and her daughter would drive by every day in anticipation of becoming homeowners.
Now that the day has arrived, she feels “blessed. Truly blessed. I can’t wait to move in. I’m excited that I don’t have to pay rent. I’m paying my own mortgage. I’m so blessed to have it, to own something.”
A ribbon-cutting to announce the project was held in June 2021, and construction started in October, according to Dennis Harold, regional construction manager for GROWTH by NCRC.
In January, Birmingham City Council voted to allocate $540,000 of American Rescue Plan funding to preserve affordability and offset rising construction costs resulting from the pandemic, according to a press release from City Hall. Homes that would typically range $200,000-240,000 are being offered for sale from as low as the $170,000s.
“Now here we are with four houses sold, two ready to close. … To be able to build affordable housing and make such an impact is at the heart of what we do,” Harold said. “This is the definition of revitalization. If you wanted to take a picture of it, you would come down this street and take a photograph.”
GROWTH by NCRC provides homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income communities and people, with a focus on communities of color. In five years, GROWTH has invested in nearly $150 million nationwide. GROWTH by NCRC also provides workforce development and housing counseling through local partnerships with community organizations in the areas they serve.
Ed Gorman, managing director for the NCRC Housing Rehab Fund, compared the public-private partnership to a unicorn.
“We’re a private equity fund, started by a nonprofit doing affordable homeownership,” he said. “That doesn’t exist on a national basis anywhere else.”
Gorman thanked Woodfin, the city of Birmingham and the banks that invested in the partnership for their commitment to affordable housing and reversing the generational impact of redlining. Woodfin said the Black-white gap in home ownership is higher today than it was in 1968. Gorman said these type partnerships are how that gap gets closed.
“Some people think it’s called the Magic City because of the terrain,” he said. “No, it’s called the Magic City because of the people and because we have a mayor committed to affordable homeownership.”
One of the new homeowners said having something to call your own is an indescribable feeling.
“I can’t compare it to anything,” Hardy said. “To see the community come together and all the organizations that have made this day possible is a wonderful thing.”
Hardy said he was rejected three times by banks and traditional loan programs.
“From what I experienced the last four months looking at houses, I began to feel like there’s no middle class,” he said. “Today a house for $250,000 is almost like a shack compared to years past. It’s a very tough housing market at the moment, so we need programs like this. It’s wonderful that someone would take the opportunity to help somebody else out. I’m a recipient of that, and I appreciate everybody involved.”
Woodfin said the city of Birmingham’s commitment to neighborhood revitalization remains strong and he wants to see more homeowners like Thomas.
“Oak Hill offers high-quality homeownership opportunities to a well-deserving community that has weathered economic challenges,” he said. “The Belview Heights community is ripe for this kind of project. The addition of new, affordable houses will allow this community to know the joys of homeownership, as well as stimulate much-needed growth and pride in the area.”
Thomas said the pride she has in her new home has her looking forward to the next family gathering, which she said is coming soon.
“My granddaughter always tells me, ‘Grandmamma, we need a big place to come and eat,’” she said. “Now we have it.”