By Sriya Reddy and Keri Mitchell
After four months away, South Dallas native Robernetta Jones returned to her home of 30 years in early October.
Everything was new — new floorboard, new tiles, and even a new peephole for her door.
For years, Jones tried her best to keep her 1949 home together as repairs began to pile up. The ceiling was falling in and there were piles of clutter throughout the house. Then at a neighborhood association meeting, Jones learned about a program through South Dallas nonprofit Frazier Revitalization that helps homeowners maintain their properties, and knew she needed to ask for help.
Frazier Healthy Homes covers the cost of home repairs for those who need it. The nonprofit originally tried to go through Dallas City Hall, which has a minor home repairs grant program with up to $5,000 from the city matched by up to $5,000 from a nonprofit. However, Frazier found that amount wasn’t enough to address some neighbors’ needs, and the city’s program can’t be coupled with other funds, so the nonprofit came up with its own solution to help neighbors afford to stay in their homes.
As volunteers began cleaning Jones’ home in June to prepare for the repairs, she said she was nervous.
“I got so overwhelmed that I started crying,” Jones said. “But I found the strength to keep on going.”
Frazier Revitalization started with $167,000 for its home repair program and didn’t have many restrictions on eligibility. By the end of 2022, the program is expecting to finish repairs on 10 homes. In the next three years, it is aiming to repair 70 to 90 homes total.
“As a part of our mission, we’re committed to stabilizing this area,” Felisa Conner, vice president of operations at Frazier Revitalization said. “When we talk about stabilization, we’re not just talking about making things where people are able to survive. We want to see the residents thrive in this community.”
Conner said that the community lets them know what they need for their own neighborhood. Aside from home repairs, Frazier Revitalization also addresses access to healthcare, fresh food and education.
Dorothy Hopkins, CEO of Frazier Revitalization, said that Jones may have been a candidate for the city’s Home Improvement and Preservation Program, which addresses major home repairs with forgivable loans of up to $73,170 for rehabilitation or, if the city deems the home unsalvageable, a zero-interest loan of up to $203,250 to demolish and rebuild. However, with the amount of paperwork required from homeowners, such as deeds, home insurance and bank statements, plus insufficient city staff to oversee and implement repairs, it may have taken too much time for her to just be considered.
For the city’s current Home Improvement and Preservation Program cycle, 623 applications were collected in libraries across the city in August and, from those, only one application has been approved. From prior cycles, 48 homes are under construction and 15 more are approved and waiting for construction.
“Potentially Ms. Robbie could have waited until the fall and then tried to go through that process, and then may or may not have been able to actually get her home rebuilt,” Conner said. “And now, yes, it’s already happening.”
Frazier’s program is in its early stages, but its main goal is to show up for its neighbors.
“These are tipping points. When people can see some movement, some improvements, then who knows what it could spur on a particular block and in the neighborhood,” Conner said. “I think that the residents are used to people talking about their new programs, and about what they’re going to do, but they don’t always see it happen in reality.”
Conner said that this program will help residents age in place and pass down property to the next generation.
“We want to help protect that,” Conner said. “When we talk about preserving affordable housing, this is our approach to that: to address the conditions of the existing housing stock and to help the residents thrive in place.”
Building generational wealth historically has been difficult in South Dallas, where residents on the whole have experienced decades of disinvestment as a result of redlining. But in more recent years, land adjacent to downtown suddenly has been deemed valuable.
Dallas Central Appraisal District’s assessed value of Jones’ property in Bertrand, for example, hovered around $18,000 until 2003, nearly doubled by 2020, and has since more than tripled to its current value of more than $70,000.
Moving forward into the next year, Conner said that Frazier will limit repair costs to $35,000 with a possible stipend to furnish the homes, depending on how much money they raise. This year, Frazier underestimated the costs and spent as much as $80,000 on some homes’ repairs. The average cost among the 10 homes it repaired was $35,000.
Jones said that the program was a blessing for her.
“I’m just over-elated,” Jones said. “On the way back to South Dallas this morning I would think, ‘Today is the day.’ I was about to be in tears so I turned on the gospel station and thought ‘God is great.’”
She’s most excited to have central air conditioning, as well as a roof.
“I’m excited to have the roof because every time it would rain I would worry that the roof would fall in,” Jones said. “I would pray and go to sleep and try not to worry.”
Jones loves her neighborhood and loves her home. She said her neighbors helped her raise her two daughters while she went to school and worked.
Her father, who died about six years ago, helped her maintain the home. With him gone, Jones said she had to make decisions alone. She said that if he saw this house now, he’d be happy.
“He’d say ‘Robbie, I’m proud of you. You did it,’” Jones said.
Now, Jones is planning on spending her time gardening and surrounding her home with flowers.
This article was reported and edited cooperatively by the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Free Press, which both participate in the Dallas Media Collaborative, a group of local news outlets, universities and nonprofits focused on covering affordable housing with a solutions-oriented approach.