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Organization Showcases Neighborhood Project

The Jamestown Renaissance Corp is encouraging members of the community to invest in home improvement projects through the Healthy Neighborhoods program.

Mary Maxwell, Neighborhood Project director, said her division of the JRC is concentrating primarily on housing efforts.

“We’re doing less greening and more housing projects,” she said. “Strengthening neighborhoods, that’s the goal. Our strategies have changed a little bit, but our goal is the same.”

After starting JRC for the revitalization of downtown in 2006, Maxwell said JRC quickly realized Jamestown needed revitalization programs not only for downtown but for the local neighborhoods. As a result, JRC started the block challenge to encourage “clusters” of people in local neighborhoods to work together and improve different sections of the city.

Due to limited funds, JRC strives to connect neighborhood properties for collective grant projects, rather than engage in scattered housing projects.

“It’s about strengthening the communication between the neighbors,” Maxwell said.

The neighborhood block challenge offers a 50-50 match for residents on “curb appeal projects,” such as driveways, sidewalks, windows, front doors, roofs and landscaping. However, a minimum of six houses are required to apply together.

While clusters are required to include five or six houses, the Jamestown Renaissance Corp has received applications with groups of over 20 houses in some clusters.

“One of the things that block challenge really has strengthened is this community building,” The Rev. Luke Fodor, JRC board’s co-chair, said. “It’s small grants but what the real collective impact is that you bring people together. You can give people all the money in the world and it wouldn’t change things; it’s culture that changes things.”

After several years of successful block challenge projects, the JRC received additional input in 2017 from an outside organization that analyzed the city and discovered Jamestown had “clusters of clusters” from JRC’s revitalization efforts.

Based on the information presented to JRC, its leadership decided to concentrate efforts on “target areas” in different neighborhoods across the city.

JRC is currently working on a target area of clusters between Allen Park and UPMC Chautauqua.

“We decided to do this first,” Maxwell said. “It was the smallest one, we didn’t have a lot of money. We were trying it out.”

The project began in 2019 and has resulted in almost half a million dollars of investment between homeowners and JRC. Currently, out of 259 properties, 131 homeowners have joined the program, signaling a strong interest in the community for home improvement. Maxwell said the grant for the program in that particular target area will conclude in 2023; however, she said the program will be made available to other target areas throughout the city in the near future.

The neighborhood block challenge strives to reverse the decline in housing in many of the neighborhoods throughout Jamestown.

Frank Besse, JRC’s Urban Core director said one of the difficulties about having a stagnant housing market in Jamestown over the past few decades is that many homeowners are not motivated to make improvements to their properties.

“We know that we have a high poverty rate,” he said. “We know that we have decades of disinvestment in our housing.”

However, a survey conducted of Jamestown houses showed there are “hundreds of houses” where homeowners could invest in improvements but have chosen to neglect those improvements.

Besse said the reason JRC is concentrating on external home improvement projects is to inspire other people in the community to consider investing in their own properties and increase the value of their house and the value of the neighborhood.

In addition to the neighborhood block challenge, JRC is also promoting a rebate opportunity for home owners who repaint their houses with a selection of colors approved and designated by the JRC.

“If you decide to paint your house and you pick one of the colors in our book, we will give you back 30% of the cost of painting the house up to $3,000,” Maxwell said.

Home owners are required to use three of four complimentary colors included with each color palette to be eligible for the rebate. Maxwell said homeowners can take advantage of both the neighborhood block challenge program and the paint program.

As JRC continues to promote home improvement, the organization wants to continue to emphasize the need for the community to work together to bring positive change to Jamestown.

“Most of the work Mary does is to build community to bring us together to realize that together we can do more,” Fodor said.

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