By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. –- Renewing the role it played in the 1880s as a catalyst for growth in Charlotte’s Northwest Corridor that was home to former slaves, Johnson C. Smith University in 1985 helped spearhead an effort to revive the region’s 12 neighborhoods after two decades of economic and social decline.
Known initially as Project Catalyst, the initiative enlisted neighborhood leaders, city officials and corporations in raising money and designing a plan that called for developing affordable housing, thriving businesses and safe streets.
In 1991, the effort led to creation of the Northwest Corridor Community Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that has built or refurbished apartments, townhomes and single-family housing, spurred new business and provided homeowner education and financial-literacy training for local residents.
On June 26, at a luncheon in Grimes Lounge at Johnson C. Smith University, co-sponsored by The H.L. McCrorey YMCA, the nonprofit presented its second annual community philanthropy awards recognizing businesses and residents in the Northwest Corridor.
With two employees and offices on the Johnson C. Smith campus, the community development corporation operates its programs with a $200,000 annual budget funded with grants, and develops housing through traditional loans from financial institutions, often using tax credits available for affordable housing, says Gwendarda Isley, executive director.
The agency has counseled roughly 300 families through its homebuyer club program, and has developed nearly 200 housing units.
That housing includes The LaSalle at Lincoln Heights, a 60-unit apartment complex it built for seniors with funding from the City of Charlotte and BB&T; 78 rental units it has purchased and rehabilitated throughout the corridor; 22 single-family homes it has rehabilitated and sold; and 21 single-family homes it has built.
And the agency now is completing construction of Vantage Pointe, a complex of 26 townhomes in Lincoln Heights funded by the city and the North Carolina Community Development Initiative.
To fund its programs, the agency for each of the past three years has received $200,000 through a grant to Johnson C. Smith University from a program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that supports historically black colleges and universities.
The agency also has received smaller grants from the City of Charlotte, Foundation for the Carolinas and the black professional group at Bank of America.
Isley says grants are critical to the agency’s work, particularly grants that can serve as capital investment to continue developing new properties because revenue from the sale of developed properties covers only the costs of buying and developing the properties.
“We really need more unrestricted funds and an opportunity to expand our capacity as far as staffing,” she says.
Award recipients at the luncheon included The Drakeford Company, which has worked to refurbish affordable housing and is developing market-rate townhomes in Wesley Heights; community activist Aaron McKeithen; and Leadership Charlotte, which has worked in Washington Heights and Lincoln Heights with teens and neighborhood leaders.