GRIER HEIGHTS – Elizabeth Heights, the affordable new neighborhood within this historically black neighborhood that is trying to free itself of a bad rep, is off to a ripsaw-roaring start toward its 36-house urban revitalization goal.
Four of the first eight homes in the new development, a joint venture of two nonprofits and Charlotte-based builder JCB Urban, have closed, another is under contract, and more potential buyers are in the approval-process pipeline for the final three.
And in the next few weeks, a national foundation will announce a major cash donation to the ongoing project.
“They literally built these homes on faith,” said Helen Adams Realtor Curt Seifart, who is acting as seller’s agent on faith himself, and without commission.
“But these homes would have sold on the first day if they had been on the open market. They’re doing incredibly well considering the long approval process, which we’re spending a lot of time educating buyers agents on.”
The three-bedroom, two- to 2.5-bath homes – two-stories and ranches that cost about $170,00 to build and include high-end custom touches like fully sealed crawl-space foundations and other energy efficient features, craftsman style exteriors clad in HardiePlank, hardwood floors in formal room, and granite countertops – sell for far under market prices, in the $130,000s.
But because they are partially underwritten by a Housing and Urban Development grant, the homes are aimed at households earning around $52,000, or 80 percent of the Charlotte area’s median income, and come with down-payment assistance, discount mortgages and an arduous qualification process that can slow time-to-contract to up to four weeks.
The neighborhood is being developed by Charlotte-based CrossRoads Corp. for Affordable Housing and Community Development and the homes being built by the Durham-based Center for Community Self-Help.
CrossRoads is an outreach ministry program of the influential and assistance-oriented Myers Park Presbyterian Church, which happens to be the longtime church-home of Seifart, who is a deacon.
“I knew there would come a time when CrossRoads would need to market the homes,” said Seifart (pronounced SEE-furt). “So one day I picked up the phone and called Don.”
Don is Don Gately, a Myers Park congregant; retiree of Bank of America and Lat Purser & Associates commercial real estate firm; and now executive director of CrossRoads. He had high praise for Seifart’s efforts.
“He has marketed these houses like they were the mansions of Eastover,” where Seifart is a leading Realtor, Gately said earlier this week as he and Seifart showed a reporter around two of the ranch homes in Elizabeth Heights. “He has been an incredible partner.”
Although JCB Urban is not a nonprofit builder, Gately and Seifart also heaped compliments on JCB owner Jim Burbank, a dean of Charlotte homebuilders who constructs higher-end homes under his Saussy Burbank brand.
“Jim contributed some of his own custom features to the homes like upgraded (interior) doors, tile backsplashes, ceramic-tile bathroom floors,” Gately said. “His team just got so passionate throughout” the build of the first eight houses.
Although the arduous qualification process for potential buyers – “a real education process for buyer’s agents,” Seifart said – includes a criminal background check, former felons are not necessarily excluded, depending on the nature of the crime, the length of time since it occurred, and evidence of rehabilitation, Seifart noted.
Myers Park began fundraising in 2008 and with the help of individual “angels” began acquiring lands – largely populated by boarded-up duplexes – in 2009. Development and building began last year. With help from the federal money, CrossRoads and Self-Help have invested about $1.3 million in land and spent $1.4 million on the construction of the first eight homes.
Although the build and marketing of the homes has been fast and successful, Seifart said, “there were some missteps at the beginning because we had to change the paperwork” to hew to shifting HUD guidelines.
Seifart and Gately expect the next phase of the project – another eight houses in roughly the same price range – to go more smoothly, thanks to both experience and what Gately called “a significant grant from one of the biggest foundations in the country.”
Elizabeth Heights might at one point include some middle-income housing to create a mix and to spur other commercial builders to come into the distressed neighborhood, which is starting to slowly gentrify in pockets. “But it’s a delicate matter of when to start market (-rate) homes,” Gately said. Habitat for Humanity Charlotte, which builds and sells more modest homes in the $80,000s, also works in Grier Heights, largely doing renovations and curb-appeal spruce-ups.
“Habitat is another great partner here,” Gately said.
Seifart said a major part of his buyers-education process – “and it’s been that more than a marketing campaign for me,” Seifart said – includes the one-stop information portal website elizabeth-heights.com, which has links to all the regulations, qualifications, documents and other materials needed for buyers to apply to buy an Elizabeth Heights home.
“The real difference between Elizabeth Heights and other neighborhood revitalization programs is that we are building on contiguous lots. We’re building a real neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood that we hope will have a real impact on the larger area,” Gately said.
“That has required a real partnership by everyone involved, and we’ve been blessed, so far, by everything coming together.”