The Other Side of Blight: One Homeowner’s Story

Before the 2007 housing crisis, Brian Cole was a small business owner. He had spent 26 years in the jewelry industry, working his way up from sales to management to store ownership. But when the bottom fell out of the economy, his store suffered. He lost his business and his house in the process.

Last year, he became a homeowner for the second time around. He and his five-year-old pointer, Taz, moved into a sunny yellow Georgian revival in St. Clair Place developed by NEAR. Now Brian and Taz are getting to know their neighbors, and on Sundays, they walk around the block picking up trash.

“This is my neighborhood now,” Brian says. “I don’t wait for neighborhood cleanup days.”

His homeownership story is a sign of renewal in the Near Eastside and beyond. Two years ago, the U.S. Treasury awarded Indianapolis $6.39 million from the Hardest Hit Fund, a federal response to the 2007 crisis, and Brian’s place was the first in Indianapolis restored with that award.

But things almost didn’t turn out that way. The Hardest Hit Fund requires nonprofit housing partners to raise some money upfront before beginning projects. Without the support of donors and volunteers, NEAR wouldn’t have been able to restore the house.

Brian says he then wouldn’t have been able to afford a home for several more years. “It sped up the track,” he explains. Brian not only purchased a home sooner than he expected, but he also surprised himself by moving to St. Clair Place.

His last visit to the neighborhood had been decades before, and it left him with a bad impression. “I was down here about 25 years ago. I swear I heard a round whizzing past my car, and I swore I’d never come down here again,” he says. blight1

But when he did come back years later, he realized the neighborhood had done a 180. He saw boys playing catch and couples walking down the street. He calls the transformation “absolutely incredible,” adding, “There are families moving in with little kids, and that should tell prospective homebuyers everything they need to know.”

Brian’s homeowner story is just one of many changing the storyline of the Near Eastside. So far NEAR has developed 83 affordable houses and welcomed hundreds of new homeowners into this close-knit neighborhood near downtown Indianapolis. And as these new neighbors form friendships with long-term residents, a renewed sense of community is emerging.

We’re honored to take part in this neighborhood renewal story, and we couldn’t do it without our donors and volunteers. As we work to create high-quality new and rehabbed homes in these historic urban neighborhoods, we’re grateful for their continued support. A brighter future is near.