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Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010 12:58 am

Housing starts

New homes brighten east side


Community members and state and city officials broke ground last week for phase two of the Nehemiah Affordable Housing project on the east side of Springfield. Developers hope to have 30 new homes built by spring 2011.

Across the street from the house she was born in, longtime Springfield resident Jacqueline Carter Smith last week stood beside city and state officials in a vacant lot on the city’s east side. There, near the intersection of Stuart and Wheeler streets, she took up one of nine gold-tinted shovels and ceremoniously lifted a chunk of dirt, signifying the beginning of a new life for 30 plots of land, and 30 families, through the Nehemiah Expansion’s latest affordable housing project, which has a price tag of more than $5.7 million.

The project to build 30 rental homes is the second round of home construction for Nehemiah Expansion, Inc., an initiative started by the Calvary Baptist Church in 1999 with the opening of the Nehemiah Child Development Center East. In 2006, the group responded to tornado damage by building 20 new single-family homes. Completed in 2008, each of those homes is now occupied.

As 2010 continues, Nehemiah Expansion will oversee the construction of 30 more homes, expected to be complete before April of next year, all between East Cook and East Laurel streets, east of 11th Street. Already there’s a waiting list of about two-dozen families, says project co-developer Mike Niehaus, president of Windsor Development. Once built, the homes will house families earning no more than 60 percent of the area media income, or about $40,000 for a family of four. Monthly rents for the 30 two-, three- and four-bedroom homes, which will be managed by the Springfield Housing Authority, will range from about $440 to about $840.

The new homes will replace vacant lots and boarded structures, making it easier for residents to take pride in their neighborhood, says Rev. Silas Johnson, president and CEO of Nehemiah Expansion, Inc. Nehemiah and Windsor are already working to develop plans for a third phase of new homes and are now in the process of finding suitable locations. Niehaus says funding will be the biggest challenge for the potential third phase and will be dependent largely upon the economy and the political atmosphere.

Mayor Timothy Davlin praised the project for the contributions the stimulus-funded project will make to the economy.

The phase two homes will be built using $5.2 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, creating the equivalent of 18 full-time jobs. Niehaus says the project will actually provide work of varying amounts for about 100 people over the expected eight months of construction. The project also received a $300,000 federal grant, awarded by the city, and about $121,000 in energy efficiency grants from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, among other funding sources.

“It [the neighborhood] is only going to get better because of projects like this,” Davlin says. “It needs to be back in the hands of people like this,” he added pointing to Smith.

“I’ve always felt this was the best neighborhood in Springfield,” Smith says. Through the decades, Smith says her opinion has remained the same, and now when asked why she hasn’t moved, she responds, “Move where?”  With dozens of brand new homes already built, and dozens more to come, the neighborhood will only get better, she adds, calling all the new residents “lucky.”

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com.

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