‘These houses are worth saving’: Habitat for Humanity builds up Jackson’s historic Broadmoor neighborhood

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Sherry Lucas

Dozens of stakeholders, supporters and volunteers gather on Avalon Road to dedicate two rehabbed houses and announce Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capital Area’s bold initiative for the Jackson’s Broadmoor neighborhood.

Jackson’s venerable Broadmoor neighborhood gets a boost in a bold new initiative by Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capital Area to affect 100 houses over the next five years.

The aim — rehabbing houses, refurbishing, demolition and new builds — is seen as a shot in the arm to a historic neighborhood that once ushered a strapping generation of baby boomers into adulthood, but has lately looked less vital, and more tattered.

Photo courtesy Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capital Area

A historical marker tells the story of Broadmoor subdivision’s origins.

A historical marker in the north Jackson neighborhood explains Broadmoor’s origins, in the 153 acres set aside by the Mississippi Legislature to help returning World War II veterans, with parcels sold by lottery in September 1948. The GI subdivision’s streets bear familiar names of World War II leaders and campaigns, such as Churchill, Manila and Normandy.

Now, the battle is against the creep of blight and neglect, and Habitat’s goal to build on the structural integrity of the area’s 1950s post-war boxes for first-time homeowners can be a contributing factor in neighborhood revitalization. Habitat’s local chapter executive director Merrill Tenney McKewen sees it as a show of respect, too, for the neighborhood and the people who raised families there after coming back from World War II.

“They’re great houses. They’re well-built. … They’re good, solid, honest homes,” McKewen says. Initial talk about tearing down blighted houses soon shifted to include a “Why would we?” rethink for properties suitable for rehab. “These were houses that were built in the ’40s and ’50s, and they’re worth saving.”

Strong amenities, too, make Broadmoor worth fighting for — proximity to places to work,
shopping centers, grocery stores, schools, churches, hospitals and pharmacies. Rehabbing can be a more economical option, and improvements such as added half-baths, opened-up living areas and new plumbing and wiring poise older houses for brighter futures.

“Once we shifted our attention to fighting for the neighborhood, we realized there was this long list of others who were also trying to do that. And, they became our stakeholders.”

The initiative launch and dedication of its first two houses June 27 — both on Avalon, across the street from each other — attracted dozens of volunteers, supporters and neighbors-to-be, representing the spectrum of Broadmoor’s past, present and future. They shook hands, swapped memories and stories, shared hopes.

David Hederman, pastor at nearby Grace City Church, calls it “just a huge blessing in the
neighborhood.”

Gray Wiggers, retired Goodwill Industries of Mississippi president/CEO, grew up in Broadmoor; his dad was a World War II combat veteran who served in north Africa. As a kid, Wiggers rode his bike past these very houses on Avalon, as his shortest route to Chastain school from his home on Churchill. “I think it’s extraordinary,” he says of the initiative. “You roll with the changes. … To be able to diversify into rebuilding a good shell is very smart thinking.” And Broadmoor, he adds, “is a solid neighborhood.”

Sherry Lucas

The Women Build in progress on Meadowridge Drive is one of the rehabs to be completed this year in Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capital Area’s Broadmoor initiative.

It’s one ShaNisha Williams is eager to move into soon. She works in accounting at Goodwill Industries of Mississippi, and is slated to buy the home now being rehabbed in the Women Build, on Meadowridge. It’s still five weeks from completion. Tearing down walls, assembling a shed and painting have gone into her sweat equity for a home for her children and grandchild.

Renovations such as an opened-up kitchen space are particularly appealing. “It really brought more life into the kitchen and dining area. That way, you can interact with your family while they’re watching TV and you’re cooking.” And her family? “Oh, they’re ready to move today! They want to be able to play in a safe environment, a safe yard, have their own area where they can enjoy it.” She came to the initiative launch in a show of support. “I’m a part of this organization now, so you definitely want to be involved hands-on, all the way around.”

The two houses dedicated June 27 were sponsored by the Selby and Richard McRae
Foundation and the Regions Foundation, with closings for their purchase by homeowner
applicants scheduled for the next day. Additional properties acquired in Broadmoor with
commitments for rehab this year include: the Women Build, sponsored by women donors and volunteers in the tri-county; Catholic Build, sponsored by a partnership of area Catholic churches; five rehabs funded through federal HOME funds from the city of Jackson; and Bankers Build, sponsored a partnership of Jackson banks.

In addition to the rehabbing homes, Habitat will build one or two houses every year,
McKewen says, supported by corporate sponsors Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi (sponsoring the first new build of the initiative this fall) and Nissan Canton. Other Habitat initiatives have targeted neighborhoods every three to five years, but Broadmoor’s is the first of this scale. The project area extends from Northside Drive north to Cedarhust Drive and Manhattan Road west to State Street.

“The one thing about Habitat going into a neighborhood is that, when we start working in a neighborhood, we seem to create a ripple, that everything else seems to get better,” McKewen says.

“Everybody seems to be more interested in their property when they see what can be done in their neighborhood.”