A church-backed nonprofit broke ground on eight new homes in the Grier Heights neighborhood on Thursday, an initiative that volunteers and city leaders hope will bring more stable families to help improve the troubled community.
Construction will soon start on the eight homes, which will be sold to low- and medium-income families. The plan calls for 36 homes total.
“We have been looking forward to this taking place for more than four years,” said Barbara Simpson, the Grier Heights community association president, who began partnering with the nonprofit CrossRoads Corp. on the initiative in 2008. “We have not arrived, but we are certainly on our way.”
The community of nearly 3,000 people, three miles southeast of uptown Charlotte, has a violent crime rate pegged at five times the city average, according to an Observer analysis of 2010 census data. Three of four families rely on food stamps, the data show. And the school dropout rate was twice as high as the city average.
The problems of Grier Heights spilled into public view in late spring when three young men were shot during a two-week period. Two died. One of the shootings came just hours after an anti-violence march.
City leaders, residents and police say homeownership – or the lack of it – lies at the heart of the neighborhood’s problem.
Grier Heights contains more than 1,000 rental homes. Just 12 percent of residents own their homes, compared with 55 percent citywide, according to the census analysis.
CrossRoads was formed in 2008 by Myers Park Presbyterian Church, which seeded the agency with part of a $30 million capital campaign. The organization draws on 200 volunteers, mostly from the church. It bought one street full of lots and razed the old houses. The group envisions a street full of affordable homes, sold to people of all income levels.
The nonprofit also wants to help the more than 1,000 children who live in Grier Heights by revitalizing the Grier Heights community center, and by running a job training center in the neighborhood.
But the home project is the organization’s most ambitious effort – especially because CrossRoads is trying to find buyers.
“We have to sell these houses now … to give people the sense of a new neighborhood in Grier Heights,” said Don Gately, the executive director of CrossRoads. “We’ve got to get the story out to the teachers and the firemen.” Staff writer Lindsay Ruebens contributed.