Greensboro Habitat working as catalyst

Winston McGregor
Winston McGregor

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. –The Eastside Park, Willow Oaks, Poplar Ridge and Village at Northside neighborhoods in Greensboro all have sponsored “Neighborhood Night Out” events to promote safety.

Other low-income neighborhoods have developed neighborhood gardens to bring people together, beautify the neighborhood and produce fresh food for local residents.

Still others have organized neighborhood patrols or developed comprehensive plans for development over the next five to 10 years.

Playing a key partnership or leadership role in all those efforts has been Habitat for Humanity of Greater Greensboro.

As part of a new business model developed for its affiliates by Habitat for Humanity International, Habitat Greensboro is expanding its focus and strategy to include not only building, renovating and weatherizing houses but also building partnerships to better strengthen neighborhoods.

“We aren’t coming in and solving problems, but we are helping neighbors frame solutions to their own neighborhood challenges,” says Winston McGregor, president and executive director. “We’re a coach, a collaborator, a catalyst.”

Founded in 1987, Habitat Greensboro has built over 375 houses, is operating with an annual budget of just over $4 million, and expects to build 27 houses in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

With $2.1 million in federal stimulus money it received through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, Habitat is buying and renovating about 20 foreclosed single-family houses.

And even before Habitat International’s new Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, McGregor says, Habitat Greensboro had begun looking for ways to “build on the work we were doing to ensure neighborhoods were sustainable, remain strong and safe, and property values were maintained, over the long haul, after the initial house construction we were doing.”

In Eastside Park, for example, where over the years it has built 30 single-family homes, is competing 20 townhomes and has partnered on building a community center, Habitat now is working with residents on a community garden and a Neighborhood Night Out.

For the garden, Habitat helped with fundraising and teamed up with the Greensboro office of the Cooperative Extension of N.C. A&T State University and N.C. State University.

“Community gardens impact a variety of things,” McGregor says. “There are more eyes on the street. They bring people together. They help with beautification. And they produce fresh food, which can be less accessible in low-income neighborhoods.”

With neighborhood security an important issue, she says, the Neighborhood Night Out is part of an effort that includes neighborhood patrols, bringing neighbors together to talk about safety, and development of a system of block patrols and captains.

While Habitat International itself is not providing funds for the new strategy, local affiliates can apply for funding that will be available to support their partnership efforts through a commitment by Wells Fargo and other sponsors to Habitat International.

“In many neighborhoods, smaller amounts can go very far,” McGregor says.

Greensboro Beautiful, for example, awarded a $1,500 grant to the Poplar Ridge neighborhood to clear out and re-landscape the entrance to the neighborhood, an amount McGregor says would not be enough to buy lumber to build a house.

“We are bringing other partners to the table,” she says, “just like we pull people together to build houses.”

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