Why LISC's vision for Historic Eastside goes beyond home ownership – Jacksonville Business Journal – Jacksonville Business Journal

Behind the scenes, the Jacksonville chapter of the Local Initiatives Support Corp. has helped shape the development of the urban core, putting millions of dollars into projects ranging from the Barnett Building to the Jessie Ball duPont Center.
At its heart, though, the nonprofit is about housing — and the transformation impact homeownership can have on a neighborhood: Over the two decades the nonprofit has been active in Jacksonville, it has funded the construction of affordable houses in Jacksonville’s majority Black communities, especially Northwest Jacksonville.
Accomplishing both those aims — revitalizing urban Jacksonville neighborhoods and getting families into homes — sits at the heart of LISC’s latest initiative, called Project Boots.
That project, which kicked off earlier this month, is helping five individuals build homes in the Historic Eastside neighborhood.
That neighborhood — to the east of downtown and Springfield — contains the city’s sports and entertainment complex, including TIAA Bank Field and VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. It also contains rampant poverty, one of the worst health zones in the city and widespread unemployment.
Dealing with those issues on a generational scale is the goal of the new project, LISC Executive Director Irvin “PeDro” Cohen told the Business Journal.
“If we want to address any of these social ills, you have to make communities like Historic Eastside — like Durkeeville and many other communities that we work in — destinations where people who have a larger bandwidth want to live,” he said.
Too often, programs focus only on helping those on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, Cohen said, which doesn’t necessarily hit the goal of transforming neighborhoods.
“We haven’t done a really good job of making them destinations for people who sit in those middle-income brackets,” he said. “What we’ve left behind is those who can’t make it out. We have to do a better job of making it a destination, where those who have gotten out want to live.”
Cohen points to one of the participants in Project Boots — a professor at the University of North Florida — who grew up in the Eastside. Having people like that return to the area has benefits that go beyond home ownership.
“If you bring him back to the neighborhood, then a kid can say, ‘I live next to a college professor’ — and now college becomes aspirational,” Cohen said.
The project, being done in conjunction with LIFT Jax and the Historic Eastside Community Development Corp., provides a year’s worth of training on subject ranging from finances to health. Participants will be required to save $600 a month, which LISC will then match, providing a $14,400 downpayment at the end of the program.
After about six months, the participants will select lots where their new homes will be built.
The first five participants were selected from a group of about 15 who expressed interest, Cohen said, and a waiting list is being developed for a second cohort.
“For every five people that participate, it costs me about $100,000,” he said. “So as I raise another $100,000, that’ll be another five people in the neighborhood.”
The goal, Cohen said, is to have an impact that reaches down through generations — and if it works in Historic Eastside, expand the program to other areas of the city that have low rates of home ownership.
Being able to build generational wealth and transform the neighborhoods from the ground up will have a long-lasting impact on both the individual homeowners and the city overall.
“I think we have the same capacity in Historic Eastside that they do in Avondale or Ortega,” he said. “If your parents leave you their home in Ortega, you’re not necessarily trying to sell it; you’re trying to move there.
“If we make these nice neighborhoods, destinations where people want to live, and they value their stuff, you have literally addressed a largest social issue.”
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