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Northside Neighborhood Initiative celebrates success of its first year

Community members gather to raise a wall to commemorate the accomplishments made during the first year of the Northside Neighborhood Initiative. Photo courtesy of Sally Bitar. 

Community members gather to raise a wall to commemorate the accomplishments made during the first year of the Northside Neighborhood Initiative. Photo courtesy of Sally Bitar. 

Since its launch in March 2015, the Northside Neighborhood Initiative has worked to improve affordable housing options in the neighborhood, among other objectives. 

The accomplishments of the initiative's first year were celebrated Thursday morning at Hargraves Recreational Center. The celebration was hosted by the Jackson Center, Self-Help Credit Union and Orange County Habitat for Humanity, partners of the initiative. 

The celebration included a parade and wall-raising at a new Habitat for Humanity site on Craig Street. Last year, the initiative received a $3 million no-interest loan from UNC-Chapel Hill and is using a landbanking strategy to bring affordable housing to the Northside community.

Hudson Vaughan, senior director at the Jackson Center, said the event was a celebration to honor Northside neighbors who have made the community a special place.

"Our hope for this event was to both showcase a lot of the work that has been going on, that’s been made possible by the legacy of generations of folks who’ve made this community special — but also to preserve the future of Northside," he said. 

The hosts set up interactive showcases for the Jackson Center, the Promise of Home Fund, Affordable Housing Partners, Landbanking Strategy and Keeping Your House a Home Program. The showcases allowed the community to learn more about their efforts. 

Alex Mitchell and Matt Coleman, co-chairpeople for UNC Habitat for Humanity, said they are excited to work on a Habitat project within the Chapel Hill community. 

“We’re helping to bring the communities together," Mitchell said. "The university and the town are kind of inextricably intertwined especially now we’re celebrating the history of Northside. There’s been such a long history over a hundred years — we’re honoring that.” 

The Saint Joseph C.M.E. choir performed a soul song, "Freedom" by Eddie James. 

Also performing at the celebration was Cameron Foushee, a student at Smith Middle School, who moved into the neighborhood five years ago with his brother and mom. They were part of a project called “Build a Block,” which pledged to build 10 Habitat homes for 10 UNC employees. 

N.C. State Senator Valerie Foushee, who grew up in Northside, said the neighborhood has a tremendous sense of community.

“Today we’ll have a chance to see a result of a transformative process — a transformation from dreams to hope, from hope to promise and from promise to reality for innumerable families," she said. 

Northside has been home to generations of employees of the University and town workforce.

The initiative's goals include to help long-time residents to stay in their homes, aid in the transition of neighbors wanting to “bank” their homes for family members or affordable housing purchases and to entice new neighbors to become part of the historic community.

In the last year, 15 properties were acquired, 12 affordable housing units were built or are in the process of being built and three families were welcomed to the neighborhood, said Matthew Fearrington, a UNC hospitals retiree and Northside resident.

Fearrington said 31 homes in Northside received repairs, new properties were launched through tax programs, noise complaints were down 60 percent and the African-American population in Northside and Pine Knolls increased for the first time in 30 years. He said 380 UNC students volunteer in the neighborhood.

Susan Levy, executive director of Orange County Habitat for Humanity, said the initiative is collaboration in its truest form.

"This collaboration has been so effective that it is being seen as a way for all of us to work together in the future in other neighborhoods and in other places throughout Orange County," she said. "This is a model.”


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