Program revitalizes two side-by-side neighborhoods

The house in the 300 block of N.W. 26th is a bungalow, just like the others in the Jefferson Park neighborhood. It's painted a bright, sky blue with crisp, white trim and has a porch swing hanging out front. Inside, 1920s styled light fixtures, wood trim and large windows complete the two-bedroom home.

It doesn't really look like a new build, but it is. That's a good thing.


Loren Capron builds new homes in Jefferson Park, a neighborhood that was established in 1903 and is now a Historic Preservation District. His goal is to build homes that don't look out of place with their last-century neighbors. Often, he said, potential buyers will ask when the home they're touring was built and be surprised to hear a year starting with a 20, not a 19.

And there are a lot of potential buyers for Capron's homes in Jefferson Park, something that would have been unheard of just a dozen years ago.

"A decade ago, people "¦ could not have picked up the phone and said, 'Hey, Mom, guess what? I've bought this beautiful old home in Jefferson Park' because your parents would have run screaming for you," said Georgie Rasco, executive director of The Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma. "But today, they are. They're proudly saying, 'This is where I live.'"

Jefferson Park and the neighboring Paseo, also a historic district, have worked block by block to go from blighted to desirable. What turned these two old neighborhoods around? It seems active neighborhood associations and inclusion in a Housing and Urban Development program have played a large part. 

Capron has lived in Jefferson Park since the early '80s, so he's witnessed the neighborhood in times of both famine and feast. He owned apartments in the area and was always involved with the neighborhood, but it wasn't until the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association worked with the City of Oklahoma City to become a Community Housing Development Organization (or, CHDO) that he became a builder.

That was in 1999. Now, 10 years later, the house on N.W. 26th is his 17th completed Jefferson Park home. While some of the new builds and rehabs are done at market rate, the majority of his homes follow CHDO guidelines.

A CHDO, pronounced "chodo" by those in the know, is a designation that allows neighborhood associations like Jefferson Park or nonprofits like Positively Paseo access federal funds through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Those funds, however, come with guidelines.

To function as a CHDO, builders must rehabilitate or construct new homes that are accessible to low- to moderate-income households, which means there is an income cap on all potential buyers. For a family of two, that cap is less than $35,000, for a single buyer, it's less than $30,000.

On top of the CHDO requirements, both neighborhoods' Historic Preservation District designations mean any rehabs or new builds also have to comply with HP guidelines.

"Price is always a major concern for us, but we also want to make sure the builder has experience in a Historic Preservation District," said Neila Crank-Clements, executive director of Positively Paseo.

Positively Paseo has worked with the Paseo Neighborhood Association to improve the neighborhood around the small arts district since 1991.

In 2004, the organization also became a CHDO and is just finishing its 18th home, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom bungalow on the corner of Shartel and N.W. 28th, said Crank-Clements. Like one would expect in the Paseo, it's creatively painted a rich, reddish ochre with deep brown trim.

Striking the balance between the Paseo edginess and historic preservation " not to mention keeping everything in the right price point " can be a balancing act. For example, preservation guidelines stipulate that windows must be wood, not aluminum.

"This is often a catch-22 for us because many of the items that historic preservation favors are more expensive than their non-historic-in-appearance counterparts," Crank-Clements said.

Historic preservation guidelines also heavily favor rehabbing a home over tearing it down and building a new one, even if that new home fits the style of the neighborhood. That means that some homes can be almost beyond repair, yet still protected. In fact, two homes on North Walker that Positively Paseo recently finished rehabbing were actually condemned before the organization started its revitalization work.

That may seem like a lot of obstacles, but both neighborhoods are having no problem filling their CHDO homes with young singles, small families and retirees.

Pumping new blood into the neighborhoods through the occupation of CHDO homes has made a big difference.  

"If the neighborhood can help start to clean up block by block and take care of those blighted properties, then they're much more likely to get private effort to come in," Rasco said.

"Property values go up, people start taking pride in their whole neighborhood, the criminal element starts to move away, and it starts to clean up and make the entire neighborhood safer."

That's exactly what has happened to both Jefferson Park and the Paseo.

"When I first moved here, a lot of the people at the Capitol were really skeptical. They couldn't believe I'd leave Edmond to come down here," said Elizabeth Park-Capron.

Park-Capron moved from Edmond in 2001 because her daughter was attending Classen School of Advanced Studies and she was tired of the commute to her job at the state Capitol. She bought a rehabbed CHDO home, sold to her by Loren Capron, and later married him.

"After I moved here, another co-worker moved here, and more and more actually single women moved to the neighborhood."

Park-Capron, now president of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, said many CHDO home buyers become very involved in their new neighborhood.

"After we sell them the house, they get involved in the community because this is their biggest investment, and they want to make sure the neighborhood is moving forward."

Today, out of 11 board members, she said five are people who bought CHDO homes. They work to beautify the neighborhood with decorative signage and lighting and bench additions to the neighborhood's two parks. The association also brings the neighborhood together with community events.

"We now see a lot of young people, young women jogging in the streets " you would have never seen that a number of years ago," Loren Capron said. "People out visiting, people sitting on their porches " it's normal."

A passion for the community can be felt across North Walker in the Paseo, too.

Although every home Positively Paseo rehabs or builds is different, "the common denominator is people loving the Paseo and wanting to live here," Crank-Clements said.

With more homes planned in both Jefferson Park and the Paseo, there is no doubt the revitalization in the two neighboring communities is far from complete. "Jenny Coon Peterson

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