Self-Help Shares

Making a Difference Together: A Church, a City and a Community Developer

By Jordan Kinser, Faith-Based Initiatives Intern at Self-Help
  | Aug 02, 2016

Ribbon-cutting event for Elizabeth Heights

Self-Help staff, community partners and church leaders come together for a groundbreaking ceremony in Charlotte.

This is the story of a struggling neighborhood, a determined church, and how commitment and collaboration can transform a community. Faith-based organizations bring powerful community resources and vision to the task of revitalizing communities across North Carolina. At Self-Help, we’re proud to work alongside people of faith to make a difference together.

For almost a century, Myers Park Presbyterian Church (“Myers Park”) has been engaged in the project of making life better for people in the Charlotte community. In the early 2000s, Myers Park leaders held a series of robust community dialogues to figure out how they could do more good in their community. Again and again, these conversations pointed to a great need in the nearby Grier Heights neighborhood. Once a thriving, middle class African-American community, Grier Heights was struggling with poverty, high crime rates and blighted housing. Myers Park felt called to respond.

In 2008, the church founded CrossRoads Corporation for Affordable Housing and Community Development (“CrossRoads”) to address the housing issues that underlay the problems in Grier Heights. CrossRoads began with $1.5 million in seed money raised by the congregation. The board of directors included members and staff of Myers Park, along with the pastors of Grier Heights Presbyterian Church and Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, fellow congregations in the community. 

At the same time, Self-Help was also working in the Grier Heights neighborhood, refurbishing and reconstructing single-family affordable housing. One home at a time, Self-Help was adding to the city’s affordable housing stock – and, more importantly, we were learning more about Charlotte and deepening our ties with the community.

Newly built homes in Elizabeth Heights

A row of newly built homes in Elizabeth Heights.

CrossRoads and Myers Park decided to join forces with Self-Help and work together to attract investors to the project. Soon, Myers Park’s investment had grown to nearly $2.5 million and CrossRoads had raised $5 million from individuals, foundations, and other investors, including the City of Charlotte, the partnership’s largest investor.

CrossRoads Executive Director Don Gately has no doubt that Self-Help’s reputation and involvement in the project made it easier to convince the city to invest.

“We needed construction and compliance experience, so it made sense to form a cooperative partnership with an experienced organization like Self-Help. Together, we were able to assure the city that we have the combined strengths and expertise to make this project succeed.” 

“The challenge CrossRoads would have had doing it on its own is we didn’t have the expertise at the time in areas like construction and federal compliance,” Gately recalls. 

Family in front of their Elizabeth Heights home

Elijah and Jessica Bratton with their children in front of the home they bought in Elizabeth Heights.

By March of 2013, CrossRoads and Self-Help had created Elizabeth Heights, a housing development within Grier Heights, and had constructed eight homes. In 2014, four additional homes followed, and in September 2015, construction began on eight more houses, bringing the total to 20 affordable homes. 

In total, the partners estimate that the project has brought over $4 million in investment to the neighborhood. By completion, the partnership hopes to construct 36 homes and increase homeownership in Grier Heights by 27%. 

Don Gately is confident that this project can be the beginning of a new wave of collaborative affordable-housing development in Charlotte. With enough community resources, vision, and expertise, he says, “there is no reason this model can’t be replicated.” 

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