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Helping seniors stay in their homes

Special Interest Programme / Partner story / Video

Photo: © Rachel Quick / Oak Foundation

Ms Eva has lived in her home in the Northside neighbourhood in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for all 90 years of her life. Originally the home belonged to her great-grandmother and eventually she inherited it. Today, she runs a beauty salon from her living room and volunteers every week doing hair for seniors in nursing homes.

While she rightfully owns her home, the tax bill has increased over the years to be more than USD 10,000 – almost her current annual income.

For more than a century, the Northside neighbourhood was predominantly African American, and many of its residents have been living there for four or more generations. However, as the university adjacent to the neighbourhood has grown, there has been pressure to increase student housing, and things have changed for residents. Developers began to buy up the houses and convert them into much bigger dorm-like buildings to rent them out to students. As a result, the real estate prices have risen sharply and the resulting increases in property taxes have forced, directly or indirectly, the original residents to move out. Elderly people have been forced to sell their homes just to pay their taxes. “This house has been in my family for a long time,” says Ms Eva. “And they’re trying to tax me out. If I couldn’t pay the taxes, then the County would take it.”

The Marian Cheek Jackson Center works to keep Northside as inclusive a neighbourhood as it has always been. Its goal is to preserve the neighbourhood as a mixed-income, multi-generational community. Thanks to its Northside Neighborhood Initiative, Ms Eva receives a property tax grant as well as help with home repairs, which have improved her quality of life and allowed her to remain in her family home.

To find ways to keep housing affordable, the Jackson Center received a loan commitment of USD 3 million, at zero per cent interest from the University. With this money, it acquires properties, makes repairs and sells the homes to low- and moderate-income families at affordable prices. It also builds new houses or renovates old houses and rents them to people who cannot work, for as low as USD 250 a month. This is one-third of the benefits a disabled person receives from the state. Ms Elaine is one woman who benefited from this initiative. “After I got divorced, I was diagnosed with cancer,” she says. “I was living in the homeless shelter for six months. I am so happy here now.”

The average age of homeowners who received support from the Jackson Center and its partner organisation Self-Help is 77 years old, and the average length of residence in the Northside neighbourhood is 58 years. Kathy Atwater is a fourth-generation resident in the community. She works with the Jackson Center, where she has seen many changes over the years.

“My desire in my efforts in the Jackson Center is to see the community come back together as I remember. Neighbours helping neighbours, people knowing who each other is, and just being a family community.”

– Kathy Atwater, resident of the Northside neighbourhood and staff at the Jackson Center.

Watch our video below to hear from the residents of the Northside neighbourhood in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

This grant falls under the Special Interest Programme strategy, which you can find here. Oak’s Special Interest grants cover a wide range of fields, including health, humanitarian relief, education and the arts.

Source: Oak Foundation Annual Report 2018