The Pleasant Hill neighborhood is about to get a little more pleasant, if the staff at Strong Tower Fellowship has its way.
The church is working on a deal through the Macon-Bibb County Land Bank to acquire eight homes on Clayton Street and Holts Lane, then renovate them.
“We’re, first and foremost, (focused) on Pleasant Hill and the surrounding area, and our purpose is to renew lives and restore the neighborhood,” said Tom Anderson, the senior pastor at Strong Tower, which sits across the street from the Vineville Academy parking lot.
The church has already renovated three houses and three duplexes in the neighborhood. Once the homes are back in livable condition, they’re rented out at a “below-market” rate, Anderson said.
“We do those kind of things for community development,” he said.
That fits right into the Land Bank’s goal for such properties. Executive Director Alison Goldey said the agency acquires those properties that might be a “blight on the surrounding neighborhood” so that they can be redeveloped.
“This is a great mission for that neighborhood,” Goldey said. “We’re happy to work with Strong Tower.”
Before the Land Bank will turn the homes over to Strong Tower, though, the church will have to show funding commitments of $30,000 for each home.
So far, Anderson said Strong Tower has picked up $120,000 in commitments, enough for four of the homes. Besides the support of other congregations such as Vineville United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian and North Macon Presbyterian, individuals have also donated.
“We have some donors we call ‘friends of Strong Tower’ that help support us,” Anderson said.
The church has set a 24-month timeline to secure the total commitment of $240,000.
Jimmy Asbell, senior minister at Vineville UMC, said Strong Tower has become one of the church’s “Pleasantville neighbors,” a mix of the Pleasant Hill and Vineville neighborhoods. He said his congregation helped fund one of the initial renovation projects.
“We try to partner with other groups that are doing things rather than try to reinvent the wheel and do it ourselves,” Asbell said.
The church’s ministry to the Pleasant Hill neighborhood isn’t limited to low-rent housing, though. When two homes adjacent to a vacant lot were deemed unfit for restoration, the homes were torn down and the lots became a community garden.
Children from the church and the neighborhood help in the garden, including the church’s Future Men of Pleasant Hill class for boys, and they also help sell produce.
“That’s all tied into the ‘deed’ side of our ministry,” Anderson said, pointing to weekly services as the “word” portion.
That approach is part of what Asbell described as a “more holistic” style of community outreach by Strong Tower. He said the renovations provide housing and remove blighted properties, while the connection to Strong Tower allows for growth through the church’s classes and programs.
“It becomes much more of a partnership,” he said.