This week at Strong Towns, we’ve been following the story of a proposed highway project that would cut directly through the Allendale neighborhood of Shreveport, LA. Allendale is a strong community that has seen growth and revitalization over the last several years after some troubling decades. One major player in that revitalization is the Fuller Center for Housing—a unique organization that has made a serious impact on the Allendale neighborhood by building and renovating homes.
The Fuller Center started in 2005 and its primary mission is to “build and repair homes for people who are unable to secure adequate housing by conventional means.” The Fuller Center serves primarily low-income families who would not otherwise be able to be approved for a home loan.
Since 2005, the nonprofit has worked with Allendale residents to build nearly 50 homes and repair more than 60. The Fuller Center is committed to a long-term relationship with homeowners, screening potential applicants, guiding them through a series of first-time homeowners’ classes, budget counseling and credit counseling, and requiring a minimum of 350 sweat equity hours from each new home owner. Most residents spend time working on the construction of their own homes, as well as volunteering to help with other home construction or at neighborhood social service agencies serving the poor.
“Our philosophy is that everything we do is a hand up, not a hand out,” Fuller Center Executive Director Lee Jeter explained in an interview. “We believe that every homeowner should have some skin the game. We’re not trying to create an environment where individuals become dependent upon the system to help them.”
According to the Fuller Center website, homeowners “pay a 20-year mortgage with no interest, the proceeds of which are returned to the organization to support the organization’s mission.” The rest of the Fuller Center’s funding comes from grants and private donations. They do not rely on any government funding.
The Fuller Center’s work has enabled dozens of families who previously rented sub-standard housing to own their own safe, high-quality homes—a powerful impact indeed. But Jeter says the impact goes beyond just having a new home. “Whenever you go from a community that’s majority renters to a community that’s homeowners, you see that change in attitude, that sense of pride,” he explains. That has led to a much more civically engaged neighborhood who knows their elected officials and takes seriously their role as taxpaying members of the city.
“We’ve seen that community grow together,” says Jeter. “We want our homeowners to have a voice in that particular community in which they live because it is in fact their community.”
Jeter also commented that the proposed I-49 highway project, which would cut through Allendale has further, brought the community together and helped them find their voice on an issue that’s deeply important to them.
In addition to home construction and rehabilitation, the Fuller Center also took on a different sort of project to help the neighborhood a few years ago. Based on responses to a community survey about neighborhood needs, the Fuller Center turned a small building on a corner lot in Allendale into a grocery store and deli with the help of grants and individual donations. Unfortunately, the store was only able to operate for eight months because it did not garner enough financial support to keep it viable. Neighborhood residents often chose to travel to cheaper supermarkets outside the neighborhood instead of shopping at the Fuller Center Grocery and Deli.
“I know it’s a need in the community, but also a process of educating residents [...] to invest their dollars in their community,” says Jeter. He also wonders whether the prospect of the I-49 connector dissuaded people outside the neighborhood from financially supporting the effort. For now, Jeter hopes the store will reopen one day and, in a series of interviews, many residents in the neighborhood also expressed a desire to see it resurrected.
The Fuller Center has given so much hope and opportunity to the Allendale neighborhood and made a lasting impact on that place. Much of that impact may be destroyed if the I-49 highway comes through the neighborhood. Homes built in partnership with the Fuller Center would likely be taken through eminent domain and razed, and those that remained would lose much of their value, not to mention the overall quality of life in the neighborhood would decrease tremendously. The sense of community and the ties built among new homeowners would also likely diminish if a highway cuts through Allendale.
Jeter notes that even if the highway isn’t built, the neighborhood cannot fully flourish and grow until the issue is completely put to rest. He believes the potential for this project is deterring new investment and development in Allendale. “We need to release that stranglehold on this community so it can breathe and grow and redevelop itself,” he says. “I can’t see that fully happening until this issue is totally resolved.”
(Top photo from Fuller Center's Facebook page)