How the South Is Leading the Way for Community-Driven Revitalization

Hannah TaylorDecember 18, 20190 Comments

“My adult life started when I moved to Spartanburg in ’88. I found family here. I found love and a career. People sometimes see it as a country town, but I’ve seen it grow and grow.”

Wanda Cheeks-Holmes is a stalwart figure in Spartanburg, South Carolina, a former textile town turned Southern college city and home to eight higher education institutions. As Director of the Northwest Community Center, she is known for her can-do attitude and around-the-clock service. If there is a job fair, blood drive, fun run, groundbreaking or grand opening in her community, Cheeks-Holmes is there.

About nine years ago, Cheeks-Holmes was at the table when community leaders were invited to reimagine the Northside neighborhood of Spartanburg, a tree-lined area of single-family homes where 64% of people currently live in poverty and nearly one in four are unemployed. From those early conversations, the Northside Development Group (NDG) was formed as a nonprofit on a mission to comprehensively revitalize the Northside into a healthy, vibrant, community-serving neighborhood.

“The dream is to have an improved quality of life in the Northside,” says Cheeks-Holmes. “That means well-paying jobs, better education – from toddlers to continuing education – access to healthcare and volunteer opportunities for neighbors.”

Northside Commons

The dream is on its way to becoming a reality. Currently under development, and slated to be fully open and running in early 2021, Northside Commons is a critical component of the ambitious redevelopment effort that will include a health clinic run by the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, nonprofit space, a community garden and a mix of affordable, market-rate and student apartments. Nonprofit tenants include AccessHealth, which connects low-income, uninsured clients with coordinated medical care and other critical services, such as rental assistance and food stamps, and NDG, the project sponsor, who will have a new office and educational space to host its financial counseling, workforce development trainings and small business services.

LIIF provided a $3.8 million leverage loan and $14 million allocation of New Markets Tax Credits to the project, alongside other partners. In addition to Northside Commons, the neighborhood redevelopment plan includes the new T.K. Greg Community Center, a public elementary school, and The Franklin School, a new early care and education center.

Northside Commons is currently under construction in Spartanburg, SC.

Purpose Built Model

The Purpose Built Communities model was established ten years ago after the highly successful transformation of the distressed East Lake community in Atlanta into a safe, opportunity-rich neighborhood. Today, Northside Commons is one of 27 neighborhoods currently in the Purpose Built Communities network – areas united in their mission to alleviate intergenerational poverty through mixed-income housing, cradle-to-college education, community wellness programs and community leadership.

Carol Redmond Naughton, President of Purpose Built Communities, has seen the impact this ground-up neighborhood transformation approach has on communities across the U.S.

“It is exciting to see the Northside neighborhood reaching the goals set by the community itself – an inclusive place where neighbors can walk from their home to buy food at the local market, gather with families and friends in the park, visit their doctor – all in close proximity,” said Naughton. “Along with strong neighborhood-serving schools, these are the foundational assets to ensure long-term physical, social and mental health and to create opportunities for economic mobility.”

In the Northside, NDG serves as the community quarterback, or local leader, bringing development expertise, community engagement, cross-sector partnership-building and a mix of investors to comprehensively revitalize the neighborhood. Local leadership has proven to be a key differentiator in the success of the neighborhoods.

“Some people were worried about the new development,” said Cheeks-Holmes of the early discussions of developing the Northside. “Retirees, disabled folks and others were afraid they weren’t welcome anymore. But seeing the [T.K. Gregg] community center in the middle of the community discussion encouraged other people to use their voice and see they were welcome.”

Addressing the Social Determinants of Health

Wanda Cheeks-Holmes speaks at the 80th Anniversary celebration of the Spartanburg Housing Authority.

LIIF’s support of Purpose Built Community’s integrated model of community-led development has spanned the past six years. Improving health access and outcomes is a central goal of this partnership.

We have learned that access to affordable medical care is only one of countless factors that contribute to a person’s health. Safe, toxin-free housing, fresh foods, green space, neighborhood safety and access to quality schools and employment opportunities all play a vital role in the health of an individual. For families with low incomes, these contributing health factors – known as social determinants of health – are frequently out of reach.

Community development practitioners, including LIIF, Purpose Built Communities and our partners, are increasingly focused on improving health outcomes in low-income neighborhoods by financing integrated projects that combine health services with “upstream” quality-of-life-improving facilities and amenities. The Northside construction is a prime example of this type of holistic effort.

Asked today about longtime residents’ feelings on Northside Commons, Cheeks-Holmes replied: “Hurry up – they can’t wait! There are people who want to be a part of this growth, people who want to buy homes near this project. Everyone wants to be a part of this greatness.”

Partners: City of Spartanburg, Northside Development Group, Purpose Built Communities, SunTrust Community Capital, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

LIIF Financing: $3.8 million leverage loan and $14 million allocation of New Markets Tax Credits

Read more stories of community development in LIIF’s 2019 Impact Report >