Sunday, June 2, 2013

I have a Voice

"I have a voice!" Or so American citizens are told. The Government says, "Use it!" Some take advantage of that and others choose not to. Those who do not choose to use it sit back and ... wait ... be idol ... take no action ...  Personally I think that's pretty boring. God gave me a "voice." And I will use it as I please!? But wait, what about the ramifications of using your voice!? Being an advocate for historic preservation is often vexing! Why won't anyone else jump on bored with it? Because "we" (historic preservation advocates) are accused of sticking our noses into other people's business, places they, our noses, don't belong! Warning: when it comes to historic preservation, it crosses a line. Who would think that a house could become so political? And why would anyone care if someone did buy that old house and take it down? It's only an old "house." Right? Hold onto your britches people! This is where it crosses the line! Houses are an integral part of what those two things Americans are sure of knowing we are going to do in life! Die and, well, pay taxes on. So to take a house down in a neighborhood that has potential only because it, said house(s), hasn't been lived in for a while or has become run down to the point that the city has considered it condemned is noxious not only to the neighborhood but for the city as well. It has destructive effects on the tax base which the city is so reliant on for day to day operations. Corruption sometimes exists in government that could have an even more damaging effect because of who has their hands in the pot making money from their little empires they have built! I know I've said this before! But now there are changes made to state laws that govern and supersede even local laws! Which is going to be even more baneful to the corrupt local government! VA has already passed a law stating that anyone who owns rental property at least two or more units either on one parcel or multiple and rents it as "affordable housing" as stated under affordable housing laws can apply with their local commissioner of revenue to pay a prorated portion of taxes instead of paying all of the taxes owed. I'll be the first one to tell you that there are more properties owned by the same people in this particular neighborhood that have that right! And they can still collect there rent on their two, three, or even four apartment housing units that they bought for really cheaper than what a homeowner bought and expended for their property in that same neighborhood. The second law that has been introduced but not YET passed is a law that will shake this 8.36 square mile "city" to the core! It's the right to build ANY type of "affordable housing" in any land available in even upscale neighborhoods! The only stipulation is if the neighborhood is historic! Franklin adopted guidelines in March of 2006 for their historic district but have yet to enforce them! Maybe now would be a good time with the threat of another house being demoed soon. Not only is it going to leave a big hole in the neighborhood, it's going to leave a big hole in the local economy as well. Franklin is in desperate need of affordable housing. Habitat for Humanity is now enabled with this new code to build affordable housing in any one of those existing holes they can buy for cheap to build cheap houses on that ultimately are not very affordable at all! So who's losing here? When it comes to who's who in government, the citizens do not have a say; affordable housing didn't get any more affordable; the tax base just slid by 30% or more; churches moved out of the neighborhood; the school system lost accreditation and never gained it back; City services were over extended; downtown businesses went out of business; nobody could sell their homes; and City Council gave themselves a raise. Do what you will to continue to destroy the entire city as a whole, just shut up and pay your taxes!

Friday, May 17, 2013

What do you want to be when you grow up?

If anyone asked you what would you want to do for the rest of your life how would you answer? I have been asked that question two times this week. I am nearing the end of earning another two year degree in general studies with only three classes left, (Note: I have earned my first associates degree at Johnson and Wales University for culinary arts). My best guess is that when people here that I am nearing graduation they feel compelled to jokingly ask the question, "So what do you want to be when you grow up?" I shake my head and ponder, thinking WOW! like I've never been asked this before :) Fortunate for me I do know what I want to do, sort of. I've got a direction anyway. When I think about my true passion I see a need to fulfill my dreams of working to help people live THEIR dreams! I believe people (without discrimination) should live the American dream of owning their own property! So perhaps I will become a a Real Estate Agent when I grow up. Is it wrong to say that I want to help families live comfortably within their means, allowing them opportunities that only "land lords" can afford to give said "people" in substandard housing; rebuilding not only communities but a renewed sense of what it is to share in American Pride and be an American, AND help save the homeless and the planet at the same time. How sad to think that here in my home town we had families living in their cars while they were waiting for housing to "become available." That's a fate worse than living in substandard housing. Not to mention the many homes that are boarded up all throughout my neighborhood while our housing authority was giving away recently less than five years upgraded apartments to the fire department for practice to build more apartments while also building brand new two story homes and selling them in place of smaller, more affordable homes using Community Block Development Grants, then selling these newer homes for $180,000 per home to people who worked at Burger King. Kudos to the city and the housing authority for giving it their best shot! Unfortunately this housing will eventually decay and become substandard as well repeating the disposable/upgrade process again in another 20 years which has seem to become the trend for this particular city. Not even a going green effort put into this project, but more importantly was this really a good use of federal funds? The local Habitat for Humanity isn't doing any better. All they can see is buying any or most available land throughout the city, well at least not the newer neighborhoods, and building new for just over $100,000. Affordable? Debatable. When my now ex-husband and I bought our home we paid $78,000 for a two story 2500 square foot home. Some may argue that 2500 square foot may be too large, but this could be justified with the many newer homes that were being built with a similar amount of or more square footage. Our mortgage payments were $678 per month with taxes and insurance included. Very affordable. Somewhere near the end of our divorce the ex made an unwise decision to rewrite the loan for $50,000 to upgrade our property with another so called mortgage company increasing our mortgage to $130,000 which made our payment increase while decreasing the value of our home. We were what some would call "upside down" in this endeavor leaving us with an increased payment of $1,082 per month. Some may think that this is not a big deal, but for us it was detrimental. It cut an elephantine hole in our monthly budget. This loan was not your typical loan. It eliminated the rolled in insurance and taxes of the property from the loan aka the escrow; it was an ARM loan. My best guess is that these ARM loans helped to put many a people in dire straits with their properties. But what if you could buy a home that is already built and fix the issues combining living comfortably not only within your means but also in an environmentally comfort zone? I have lived through this experience and have done enough research that I have figured the answer to this question out and I want to share! What can people really!? I mean realistically afford for housing?

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Townhouse, Franklin, VA

I walked by it for at least five years yearning to rescue it somehow, someday. The Townhouse, as it was well known throughout the city by Franklin natives and Southampton County natives, was a big wonderful, majestic piece of art and a very important part of Franklin's history in it's heyday. Ca. 1900, this grand Colonial Revival mansion continued to stand proud at the corner of Beaman and South High Street beckoning to be restored to it's once opulent appearance. 205 South High Street, by my will, would see a renaissance. The only pictures I have of this house are in ruins and finally, the sad story that brought it to rubble. Pieces of it strewn about like it had been in a war, brought on by it's own city. The city that had no compassion or responsibility for it's own reputation it once brought them.

The Townhouse was owned first by the Pretlow family. The Pretlow family owned a store in Franklin's downtown on the corner of Main and Second Avenue.The mansion changed hands to Hal Lyons on July 10, 1947. Mr. Lyons would then renovate it as a fine Inn that would mimic the style of an early 19th century Inn. He had created a Nationally well known Inn. It had received highest ratings in such publications as "Gourmet," "Duncan Hines," and the A.A.A. books according to a Tidewater Newspaper Article I found in the local library. It was recognized as "Tidewater's finest caravansary" that drew visitors from far and wide leaving them with a lasting memory of tradition in Virginia.

Hal Lyon was a musician, he owned two movie theaters (one in Franklin, the other in Boykins,VA), he was a part of many organizations serving locally, state, nation, and worldwide. He owned businesses in Tuscon, Arizona, a large ranch; a housing development in Phoenix, Arizona; and many hotels abroad including Honolulu, Hawaii. He was married and had one daughter. Hal and his wife are buried in the Poplar Forest Cemetery in Franklin. I have talked to many local people whom have lived in Franklin long enough to remember Mr. Lyons. They all agree that he was a strange character indeed. I can only surmise his personality may have reflected that because he was a very intelligent human being indeed.

I had an ongoing love affair for this homes underlying beauty that once graced this end of town. It's luster had faded, but I could see it shine through. Not something that everyone could see when they look at an "old, dilapidated" house. I heard a lot of people say that the house needed to be "brought down, "demolished," "tore down." Wiped off the face of the planet like it NEVER existed! All words that ripped at my heart strings. It could most definitely be brought back to what it was and I was determined to do it!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

I have recently written an article for the Tidewater News (TN) concerning what finances and incentives are available for historic home homeowners in the state of VA targeted toward those who are interested in buying those homes. I have a friend that writes for the TN on a weekly basis whom I was talking to one day who encouraged me and inspired me to write an article for the guest column. I was originally going to write it as a question to Dear Abbie. As you might have guessed, Abbie is my friend whom I mentioned earlier. She contacted her editor and asked if it would be okay for me to submit my article for the guest column, and her editor said yes. I've got to tell you that I was nervous.  Historic Preservation had become a cause for me worth fighting in the past decade. I was living in a historic home in Franklin's Historic District at the time. My now ex-husband and I were restoring our home. I had noticed that not a lot of action had been going on as far as other restorations and decided to do my own research for answers. My research led me down many different paths. I met people with the same passion I had for the subject through the Department of Historic Resources, I talked with other communities that were taking restoration initiatives serious not only for VA but across the country, and I even formed a neighborhood watch and non profit organization to encourage people to become involved and take an interest. I organized workshops and neighborhood tours with the help of people I had met along the way. I wrote letters and knocked on peoples doors to sign petitions for homeowners of abandoned properties. Even though I had a great group of people formed, my challenge was with the city. The city of Franklin flat out did NOT want the change. Change meant that they would have to adopt guidelines to save architectural features that were significant to older homes without allowing just anybody to come to town claiming they were investors. When in all reality they were fly-by night investors looking to make a quick buck because they knew they could buy older homes dirt cheap. What the city didn't realize was that these investors weren't only destroying the historic district, they were also destroying their downtown businesses within the historic district, their tax base, their schools, etc. In my opinion, I believe their main concern for not wanting change was really the possibility of the fact that if they allowed people into our neighborhood to make a change for the sake of the community, they might possibly lose their political positions and power. It was easier for them to allow people to build new homes so that the people who owned the historic homes could continue to rent their homes in the form of two, or even three apartments, per house. The neighborhood was at least 70% rental property. So my cause was well worth the fight. Not to mention the home builder in Franklin who was building a new, more modern neighborhood on the other end of town was also on Franklin's Planning Commission creating conflict of interest. So there was a lot at stake for the guys that sat on city council, the planning commission, or any other seat that made major decisions for Franklin. Most of our neighborhood persisted anyway. We were headstrong for six years. We did encourage our city leaders to adopt the guidelines and make a few changes to other ordinances.. Even though the city spent a lot of money on the guidelines, they do not share these guidelines with people who buy their homes within the historic district. It has been said to me that these guidelines "are to restrictive." I don't think spending $45,000 to have these guidelines written and adopted was for the sake of hiding them from those who are truly interested in a serious investment such as home. Or better yet, a historic home at that! Historic homes retain their value more than that of a modern home! As a side note, now that I am thinking about it, this is when talks of restoring an old high school, known as Hayden, were beginning. I am thinking it could have possibly been that they adopted these guidelines because they needed them in place before beginning the restoration.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What's the purpose!?

I ask myself this every day. I stood for so much then. I still do. It was about the history, honoring those who first lived there, the architecture, the city, the homeowners, community... All the times I was humiliated, and anyone else who stood with me, into thinking I, we, were the one(s) in the wrong!! Made me fight even more! For those who did care, the handful of us, we would join in neighborhood meetings and events eventually forming our own neighborhood association. I heard a lot of complaints from people who thought we were the complaint department but did not want to join our efforts. Perhaps it was because they knew we wouldn't really win anything. The police finally became involved in our meetings encouraging us to become a neighborhood watch. We could call them anytime we saw suspicious activity. The only problem with that was there were people who thought all we had to do was continuously watch suspicious activity ALL the time without EVER taking a stand. Those who thought it was ok to always report but never take a stand were the ones who were born and bred there for many generations. The ones who wanted change were the ones who moved in from other parts of the US who really wanted to live in a nice neighborhood.

Neighborhood Watch was no doubt encouraged through the good ol' boy system so nothing in that particular neighborhood would really ever have to change. It was a way to appease us.

After looking into local city codes, our group found out that our neighborhood was zoned R2. Which meant that any house at any given time could be turned into another duplex. We did accomplish changing that code to R1, single dwellings only, which also meant that if a house sat vacant for two years and was apartments, it would have to be converted to single family. However, there were houses that had three apartments that should have been turned into single family homes, but once again, the city failed to follow there own codes. We carryed on feeling like we were making some sort of head way...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Meet my Neighbors :)

I had many colorful neighbors living in ye old 'hood. Many of which are still there today. Amy Johnson and her mom and dad, June and Tony, whom were never married, still live in the "yellow" house on the left of my house. Her dad has since passed, and Amy's mom, June, has since moved to a trailerhood. But Amy still lives there. She had a little boy with her boyfriend that was about my youngest daughter's age. He was born into a bad situation. His eyes were crossed and he drooled all the time. I taught my girls that it was not nice to make fun of people. They learned. But I hated living next door to them. They locked themselves up in the downstairs apartment they rented from Mr. Curtis Drake at the time, an absentee landlord, doing drugs, drinking, and smoking all day, everyday, day in and day out. There friends would often visit for that purpose as well. The smell from there apartment was nauseating. I became friendly with these neighbors, well, because, isn't that what God would want? "Love thy neighbor" comes to mind. I was friendly, but I wasn't "friends." I was trying to teach my girls manners as well. As Paul, Amy's son, got older, he would come over to play every once in a while.

Then on the right side of my house, lived a spoiled, snotty woman about my age, Cory, whom I was actually one day older than she was, who never had kids or was married. She owned a dog, was an RN in Chesapeake General, VA, and had many boyfriends. She became a hard core animal person. I guess the fact that there were a lot of cats in the neighborhood due to renters moving and leaving them behind bothered her. A LOT!

Miss Barbara moved in not long after we did. She was a sweet lady. Had two older daughters of her own. She got along with everyone! She kept busy with work and traveling. Next to her was a yellow and brown house that was owned by someone from the "other side of the tracks." Please remember, I moved to a small southern town. Mr. Turner lived nextdoor to that house. He was an older man who lived in the neighborhood for forty years before we moved there, raising his family there, and watched the neighborhood deteriorate in front of his eyes. He was a fountain of information.

Carol, another renter, was the only one who lived in the three story house that had been broken up into three apartments years ago. She lived in the first floor apartment. At that time she seemed to be a decent neighbor. It wasn't until she moved out of the neighborhood then back in two houses down the street from me that she became mean and ugly toward me. This three apartment house would later be auctioned to a  guy who tore it up and would rent to single moms, like Amy. All the while the four year renovation was going on he would rent to the people who were working on the house. So for four years, we had drug dealers living there.

The house across the street from me on the corner, had been bought by a rental property owner. After destroying the integrity of the home, a single mom with three boys moved in. She didn't stay long because of the neighborhood. Then the house became what we all thought was a half way house for women who were trying to be integrated back into the community. This house must have been unsupervised, because we had a lot of problems with them. Our new association spent a lot of time at City Council meetings complaining about all the houses, but this one in particular. The City would not give us any information on this house. We finally found out that even though we were zoned residential, this house was given a conditional use permit.

Then there were the neighbors that had lived there for many years on their own little plot of land, not paying attention to anyone or anything else around them, and would tell you there was nothing wrong with the neighborhood...

I have many stories to tell about these neighbors and my battle to make our neighborhood more family oriented! I am going to let it all out for the world to read. I am wondering if I am the only one who had a battle like this?