Video: Habitat tackles blight in Lynmore Estates
When Christine Pearson moved into the second Habitat for Humanity house built in Lynmore Estates nine years ago, she knew nothing about the neighborhood.
Pearson had been living in an apartment in Macon’s Bloomfield neighborhood, where she said it wasn’t safe for her grandchildren -- she calls them her kids -- to play outside.
Many of the houses were empty and dilapidated. Some of them were boarded up. Too many residents didn’t take care of their property, and they didn’t care about the community.
But 10 years ago this month, Macon Area Habitat for Humanity chose to focus on the declining neighborhood not only to tear down blighted houses and build new homes with new owners, but also to help residents take back their neighborhood and get involved in what happens there.
Somewhat triangular in shape, Lynmore Estates lies between Mead Road and Broadway.
Pearson has seen a lot of changes there in recent years.
“When I first moved (to Lynmore Estates), I didn’t have any neighbors,” she said. “I know all my neighbors now. I can walk down the street and around the corner and everybody speaks. People are real friendly -- they talk to each other. ... My kids play outside ... and everybody looks out for my kids.”
Carrie Redmond moved to the neighborhood in the early 1980s.
She has been involved with the Neighborhood Watch Association the past 15 years and served as its president the past 10.
“(Lynmore Estates) has changed a lot,” Redmond said. “Habitat has made a great turnaround out here.”
Since 2005, Habitat has helped 46 families “meet their needs for safe, affordable housing in the neighborhood,” said Harold Tessendorf, Habitat’s executive director.
In May, Habitat led an effort to map Lynmore Estates and two other neighborhoods by using its workers, neighborhood youths and students from Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism. The CCJ is a partnership involving Mercer’s journalism school, The Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting.
The results of the mapping project showed that of the 399 parcels of land in the neighborhood, there were fewer than 300 structures. Some structures have already been torn down by the city and others. Of the total structures still standing at the time, about 36 percent were rental properties, about 30 percent were owner-occupied and about 34 percent were blighted and vacant houses.
The Macon chapter’s board met this year and approved an updated strategic plan, Tessendorf said.
One of the questions the board considered is what they would like to see in the neighborhood.
“Over the next five years -- and it may take longer than five years ... our goal would be to get the homeownership rate to around 60 percent in the neighborhood,” he said. “The state average is 67 percent, and the Macon homeownership rate is 53 percent. So we want to be somewhere between that.”
The board also wants to “significantly reduce the amount of blight in the neighborhood,” he said.
Historically, Habitat builds its new homes on vacant property, or it demolishes a blighted house to build a new one. But this spring, it tried something different.
It deconstructed a house on Melvin Place that the city had condemned. Deconstruction involves taking the house apart as opposed to demolishing the entire structure and hauling everything to the landfill.
“What we were able to salvage was the lumber,” Tessendorf said. “We got over 4,400 board feet of lumber out of that house.”
Nails were removed from all the reusable lumber, which was then sold at Habitat’s ReStore on Holt Avenue. Also, the house’s concrete block foundation was broken up and used as road base to a county landfill.
It was a pilot project funded by Habitat, the Macon-Bibb County government and three downtown churches: Centenary United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church of Christ and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The idea was that some of the people the churches serve could be employed with on-the-job training to do the deconstruction.
The second deconstruction of a house in Lynmore Estates took place this month on San Carlos Drive. The funding for that project came from a private donor, Tessendorf said. The house was donated, and the cost of the environmental testing and abatement was donated.
A Habitat house will go back on the site, he said. Construction is expected to begin late this fall, and it should be occupied by June 2016.
“We’ve got to do a few more of these (deconstructions) before we can sit down look at the data and say whether this is worthwhile,” he said.
MORE PRIDE IN NEIGHBORHOOD
The revitalization of Lynmore Estates isn’t just about tearing down blighted houses and building new ones.
Residents need to become part of the revival, and that effort has been led by Sundra Woodford, Habitat’s neighborhood revitalization manager.
“What we have done is really ignite this neighborhood,” Woodford said. “They have really been mobilized in addressing some of the blight issues and what to do with blighted property.”
On Good Friday morning this year, about 20 residents -- young and old, black and white -- showed up to help plant a community vegetable garden. They planted squash, tomatoes, corn, peppers, and other vegetables. The land for the garden was donated by an adjacent homeowner.
That afternoon, the residents planted a fruit garden with pear, plum, apple and peach trees.
Residents showed up at scheduled times to work in the garden and “then anyone could reap the harvest,” Woodford said.
The planting of both gardens was led by the Rev. Rayford Johnson, the pastor of Countryside Baptist Church in Lynmore Estates, who also owns Johnson Lawn and Landscape.
“We’ve had a lot of people come in and look at it and say, ‘I would have never thought we would see something like this in here,’” Johnson said.
The vegetable garden was 7,000 square feet in size and it’s been “very successful,” he said.
“We did it because the kids in there don’t get fresh vegetables all the time. Plus, they could work in it and they wanted to pick stuff. ... (The gardens) are bringing people together. That neighborhood needed some closeness. ... We don’t have as much trouble as we used to have either, and I’m definitely grateful for that.
“We still have a lot of houses that still need to go, but it’s an improvement from nine years ago,” he said.
Johnson began preaching at the church nine years ago, and he and his wife have become involved in several projects there. Once a month the church has a food program, and more than 200 people usually show up. He makes sure the orchard has plenty of water and helps deliver food to elderly residents.
It doesn’t matter that Johnson doesn’t live in Lynmore Estates. He lives off Forest Hill Road in north Bibb County.
“I’ve found my place in life and it’s right there,” he said.
Now residents are working on a meditation garden.
“It will ... be a space of peace in a neighborhood that is wrought with all kinds of social ills,” Woodford said.
Another project initiated by Habitat is to designate a yard of the month in the community. At first, residents were reluctant to nominate their own yard or a neighbor’s yard.
“Now people want that sign in their yard,” she said. “It’s not that it’s a pretty sign -- it’s a symbol of what it means. It distinguishes (that yard) from the blight. It distinguished it from other neighbors’ yards.”
Habitat sponsors the program with Minton Lawn & Garden Center.
One homeowner, who has always kept a nice lawn with pretty flowers, teaches others free of charge how and what to plant.
CLEANUP DAY COMING
Last fall, a canine census by volunteers who went door to door counted 246 dogs living in the neighborhood, but that number did not include stray or feral animals. Habitat arranged for a mobile spay-neuter van from Atlanta to come to the neighborhood. About 50 animals were spayed or neutered then.
The van is scheduled to come back Thursday. Only residents of Lynmore Estate who want the free service should call Woodford to make an appointment at 745-0630, extension 305, or 972-1429.
Despite the successes, a lot of blighted property remains in Lynmore -- sometimes right next door to a new Habitat home or older homes that are kept in good shape. Some lots where blighted houses were demolished now have tall weeds and bushes.
Habitat plans to send all property owners a letter reminding them how important it is to maintain their property, Woodford said. In some cases, Habitat will ask for permission to go on the property to clean it up.
Also every quarter, the neighborhood has a themed cleanup day, and efforts are made to continue improving the appearance of the neighborhood. During the last quarterly cleanup, residents collected 110 old tires, and Habitat partnered with Raffield Tire Master to recycle them. The next regular cleanup is Oct. 17.
“They are not playing out here,” Woodford said. “They are serious now, and they are getting really positive feedback and attention. “And it feels good to residents who live in a neighborhood that was in decline. ... There is so much other positive news coming out of this neighborhood, and they are excited about it. They are actually proud of it. We are certainly seeing the numbers of participation increasing across all age groups.
“If you don’t involve people in the solutions to their problems, it’s not sustainable,” she said. “They don’t own it, they don’t recognize it. It’s somebody else’s problem.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this story. To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223 or find her on Twitter@MidGaBiz.