DASH for LaGrange turns 10 this year and leaders of the organization say the work they’re doing to revitalize neighborhoods in the city isn’t anywhere near done.
Ricky Wolfe, now chairman of the Troup County Commission, started DASH – Dependable, Affordable, Sustainable Housing – after the former mill village youth came back to LaGrange and saw his old neighborhood crumbling.
“It’s been 10 years since we started work in Hillside and we’re not ready to say goodbye at all,” said Cathy Smith, DASH executive director.
Coinciding with Wolfe’s return to LaGrange 10 years ago was a report that a third of the city’s housing stock was substandard.
“That was a big eye opener,” Smith said. “These were neighborhoods that were just two blocks from major city streets. The concern was that these mill villages that were once beautiful would turn into slums.”
DASH began acquiring properties in Hillside and renovating the homes, some at fair market price and some geared toward affordable housing for first-time homeowners. In 10 years, the organization has renovated or built 300 rental units and 80 houses, along with a “housing rehab” program for other dilapidated houses in the neighborhood and housing counseling programs for home buyers who need help getting their credit in order to buy a house.
“To just put someone in a house is not necessarily a good thing,” she said.
DASH has spread into other neighborhoods as well. Paint the Town brings volunteers together every summer to paint houses of people who could not otherwise afford or do the work themselves. Dunson School apartments was a project to renovate the former Dunson School into living units for seniors and DASH has built other apartments and new developments around the city. They also work on “community building” so that neighbors know each other.
“No one should live in substandard housing,” Smith said.
Affordable housing benefits not just the residents, but the city itself, she said, since new businesses are attracted to the new neighborhoods. Consumer spending is increased and more tax money flows into the city.
Residents who live in affordable housing have more money to spend on health care and their children have more stability, she said.
Smith’s talk Thursday night was part of a DASH-sponsored event at LaGrange College that hosted leaders of two other community revitalization efforts in the Southeast. Pam Dorr is the director of HERO housing in Greenville, Ala., that works with volunteers to rehab houses and other buildings in the region. Her organization also started a Pie Lab – volunteers make and sell pies in the morning in the space, then other small businesses and organizations host events in the afternoon.
Jim Wehner is the director of Charis Community Housing, working to revitalize a southeast Atlanta neighborhood in a method very similar to DASH’s efforts.