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West End sees transformation as rehabilitation program continues

By Liz Moomey
liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — At the end of July, the Salisbury Community Development Corp. announced, along with the City of Salisbury, a forgivable lien program to allow for residents to renovate the exterior of homes in the West End neighborhood.

Beginning in October, several homes in the West End began seeing updates to the outside of their homes.

One home owner was Cynthia Neely, on Old Wilkesboro Road. Her roof was replaced. She also got a wider frame and door, columns and siding. She has seen four homes on her block take advantage of the program.

“It’s amazing,” Neely said. “In a minute, it’s going to kook like a new neighborhood.”

John Douglas, on S. West Street, also participated in the lien program. He had his stairs repaired, his lawn upgraded, gutters replaced and new windows installed that have decreased his electricity bills.

Despite a slow start, the CDC has completed 17 homes. Two are currently being inspected to begin rehabilitation. Chanaka Yatawara, Salisbury Community Development Corp. executive director, said there is money for one or two more projects. Yatawara said the lien program gives the satisfaction that the CDC can make their dream come true.

Under the West End Housing Revitalization and Rehabilitation Program, owners receive a lien of a maximum $20,000 to rehabilitate their home. The lien is reduced by 20% every year for five years until there is no balance.

Yatawara said he can already see the excitement of the neighborhood as homes are being updated.

Douglas said he can see and feel attitude and atmosphere of the neighborhood change.

“It’s the difference between day and night,” Douglas said.

Meanwhile, some residents of the West End have taken note of the changes and have begun fixing up the exterior of their homes without the CDC’s lien.

O. Mae Carroll, commander of the J.C. Price American Legion Post 107, said the city program pushed her to keep up with everyone else in the neighborhood. So, she repaired her roof and worked on her deck.

“When you ride down the West End, it really looks good,” Carroll said.

At the July meeting to introduce the lien program, there was some hesitation. Residents were worried about the liens and what the outcome would be if they passed away or sold their home in those five years. Answering those questions, the CDC said the lien would not need to be repaid if the owner passed away and was willed.

Douglas first heard about the rehabilitation program from a previous homeowner. Douglas has owned his S. West Street home for three years and has lived there for 14 years. He wanted to do the upgrades so he could leave his kids a home that didn’t need so much work that the they would be inclined to sell it and move on.

Douglas got what he wanted. His kids enjoy the new home. And he joked that he’s now trying to stop them from moving back home. His grandkids are also able to come and play in the font yard.

“I never ever believed that this would happen for someone like me,” Douglas said.

To qualify, owner-occupied applicants had to have a household income of no more than 120 percent of the city’s median income. The city’s median household income is $38,316, according to the U.S. Census.

Yatawara said the program targeted the working class. Other funding such as CDBG grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development bring homes up to code, but the lien program allows for outside rehabilitation for projects that are costly for residents.

“There’s a sense of pride,” Yatawara said. “Homes are looking better.”

The lien program was for part of the West End, and Yatawara said he hopes the City Council keeps funding the program to expand more houses in the community.

Looking ahead

The West End neighborhood consists of many families who have lived there for generations. Neely’s great-grandparents, for example, lived in the Old Wilkesboro Street home. And as the West End transforms, its residents want that transformation to be one that brings positive outcomes.

“I would like to see it grow, to have a nice, solid, clean neighborhood where people interact,” Douglas said.

Carroll said she would like to see sidewalks continue to be built. Neely agreed.

Both also spoke about having more interaction with the police. Neely offered that police could be more present in the West End.

There have been other small improvements, too, in recent months. A West End entrance sign was installed at the intersection of Brenner Avenue and Monroe Street in October.

“The residents will be more than happy and more than eager to let us know that there’s still a lot of work still left to be done, but I think it’s pretty clear that the city has put a priority on improving the West End,” said Jason Walser, executive director of The Blanche & Julian Robertson Family Foundation, Inc.

Looking forward, one positive indicator, Walser said, is that private money is being invested into improvements in the West End, whether it’s home owners rehabilitating their homes or a new home being built.

“You’re starting to see private investments because people are perceiving that things are improving. … They’re willing to put their own money into fixing up house or building new houses, and that’s exciting,” Walser said. “That’s ultimately the goal.”

Overall, Carroll said, the neighborhood is optimistic about its future.

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