The Driving Park neighborhood sits three miles east of Downtown Columbus and south of busy Livingston Avenue. Some residents remember the area filled with neighbors who took care of their property and cared for their children.
Today, some say too many homes sit vacant or developers buy them up, restore them and sell them for more than current residents can afford.
Longtime resident Beverly Barrett, who lives in the 900 block of Lilley Avenue, has heard promises of renewal before.
“My thoughts is, it’s piecemeal,” Barrett said. “My question is what are they going to do with the people they’re displacing? They displaced the people from Main Street and brought them over to Livingston where they do their trade on our street. They are now living in our area, walking our streets, making our homes dangerous.”
Residents like Barrett, along with business people working with several community groups, pushed for Driving Park to get attention from Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
The hospital will be expanding its efforts to improve housing for some Columbus neighborhoods, as part of the hospital’s goal to better health outcomes. The next step is reaching areas further away from its location.
Over the past 10 years, the hospital and its public-private partnerships have invested over $22 million to improve housing in areas close to the hospital. As a result, over 300 homes so far have undergone renovations.
“We know that if families and children are in safe, decent housing they can then begin focusing on their health needs,” says Angela Mingo, director of community relations at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Nationwide Children's recently released a study it conducted on the neighborhood improvements showing it can lead to better health.
In the Southern Orchards neighborhood, near Nationwide Children’s, gun violence, high infant mortality and high asthma rates dominated the area. The hospital took on the neighborhood as sort of a patient by talking with residents about issues and renovating vacant and declining homes.
The study found that improvements encouraged children to play outside again. The vacancy rate dropped from more than 25 percent to 6 percent. Homicide rates fell to zero last year, while high school graduation continued climbing.
“We want to make sure that we take on a role where we are helping families to maintain their residency in this neighborhood,” Mingo says. “We don’t want families to be placed out of this neighborhood because of all the good that’s happening. And that’s why the affordable housing model is so important. That we have below market-rate housing for families who want to be here who are already here and who want to stay.”
Mingo says about $20 million for affordable housing will be made available through loans and grants.
“The affordable housing initiative, Healthy Homes, will spread north to Livingston Avenue, East to Alum Creek,” Mingo says. “We will be heading south to Marion Road, and Parsons Avenue is our western boundary.”
The aim is to improve up to 170 housing units or 15 percent of overall housing. Rents will be lower than market rate, at $600 to $850 a month.
“I think it’s a good thing if it’s inclusive of the people that live in the neighborhoods that still don’t have jobs,” says Livingston Avenue businessman Brian Willis. “So they need to somehow include those people.”
On the South Side, Kevin Bolding is restoring a duplex for his company Karimah Homes. He got the job through a hospital-organized bidding process. He wants to get more work from the renovation program and hire more local residents.
“I’d like to be able to do at least two to three (houses) a year. It’s going to be a tremendous amount of work,” Bolding says. “I’m sure it’s going to be competitive bidding, but all I can do is get in here and try to get my part.”
Bolding says he takes pride in turning around rundown neighborhoods.
“My thing and what kind of excited me about this was being able to help the community,” Bolding said. “So with properties that I own renting them out to subsidized housing that kind of shows where we are. We’re about helping.”
Mustafaa Shabazz, president of the Livingston Avenue Business Association, says the Driving Park community wants to play more of a role in its own improvements.
“Our goal is to make it historical, is to preserve it, but it’s also to keep the rent in check so that the ordinary working person can be able to live near the city where all the resources are,” Shabazz says.