Franklinton Rising Turns Vacant Homes Into Fulfilling Work

Jul 24, 2017

Seventeen-year-old Andrew Cain likes building things with his hands. Earning $10 an hour, the West High School graduate is one of eight trainees using power tools to rehabilitate a duplex on Chicago Avenue in Franklinton. 

“I want to be a carpenter and I’ve been keeping my mind on that for like the last year or so," Cain says.

The duplex is the group's second rehab on the block, but their goal is bigger than any one house.

The non-profit, faith-based organization Franklinton Rising wants to create more opportunities for people on Columbus' west side who may not have had positive role models or have a criminal record. At the same time, they're working to transform an area long marked by poverty and abandoned homes.

“We’re helping them obtain skills, both life and job skills, gain employment and then housing," says organization president Tom Heffner. "And our hope is that they will become a productive member of the community and a role model for others to let them know what can be done."

Each total rehab can cost up to $200,000, which is why the city of Columbus is helping out with the check. Franklinton Rising got its first neighborhoods grant from the city this year for $40,000, with the rest of its money coming from donations. Some contractors also provide free electrical or plumbing materials. 

Alex Powell, left, holds the ladder for another Franklinton Rising trainee during a home renovation on Chicago Avenue.
Credit Debbie Holmes

Heffner says the eight trainees go to classes to learn about working in the construction trades. They get help with how to use hand and power tools, as well as learn about motivation, ambition, productivity and positive relationships.

The area could use some of that elbow grease. Franklinton, the oldest community in Columbus, is also one of the poorest. Heffner says unemployment is 28 percent, more than six times the county-wide rate. 

According to city officials, 20 percent of the area's homes - almost 400 units - were vacant as of December 2016. But that's down from 575 just five years ago.

“We want to keep the heritage, the history," Heffner says. "We want to keep the architecture so that it’s back to where it was originally."

Built in 1910, the duplex that trainees are rehabbing now needed new plumbing, electrical, drywall and windows.

Alex Powell, 20, has been working on-site for five weeks. 

“This program it helps me learn different things that I didn’t know," Powell says. "And when I first started I didn’t know anything about a hammer or anything."

Powell grew up on the west side and saw his neighborhood deteriorate.

“When I was younger, I used to see houses abandoned and when I saw houses abandoned, I would think like what if I bought one of these houses one day," Powell says. "Or what if I would be able to build or rebuild one of them for the community and I look today as I achieved my goal."

Alex Powell, left, says he grew up on the city's west side and saw his neighborhood deteriorate. Andrew Cain, right, says he's hoping to work in construction.
Credit Debbie Holmes

Twenty three-year-old Josiah Bremenour directs the trainees.

“They all come from different backgrounds, and as long as they come in with a willing attitude most of them learn pretty quick hands-on," he says. "I feel like it’s an easier way to learn than book work."

Long-time Chicago Avenue resident Karen Lambert says she welcomes improvements, but she’s skeptical the renovations are a long-term solution.

“They tear a lot of houses down, and hopefully they can get some of them built back up and do something with this area," Lambert says.

Heffner says the challenges will continue.

“There still are a lot of houses that are boarded up, they’re vacant and something needs to be done with them or else they may end up on that schedule for demolition," Heffner.

Bremenour, though, says he’s proud of the renovations and the progress they've made.

Twenty percent of the homes in Franklinton - nearly 400 - stand vacant. That's still down from five years ago.
Credit Debbie Holmes

“It is cool. It is cool because you’d normally think they’d be torn down," Bremenour says. "If you seen the house next door we did and this one you would have probably knocked it over and we had some of our own trainees say that. So it is cool to be able to see the ending result."

The program plans to place three of the trainees in full-time construction jobs or an apprenticeship by the end of the summer, Heffner says. The goal for the next 10 years, he says, is to transform 100 lives and 40 houses.

“Life is hard and sometimes they have difficulty being punctual and being as reliable as we would like, but we’re teaching," Heffner says. "And we’re helping them to learn how to cope with life and how to be a responsible individual."

One day, he hopes, the workers may even buy a home they helped to restore.