Home Sweet Home for Congo Street

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Deborah Ferguson
    Proud homeowner Ms. Ella Garrett with Brent Brown, founder of buildingcommunityWorkshop.

    A two-year revitalization project for residents on Congo Street in the Jubilee Park neighborhood of East Dallas wrapped up with the completion of the final house over the weekend.

    "I love my place. I'm gonna enjoy my place. Sit on my screened porch and live it up," said Ella Garrett, owner of the sixth home dismantled then put back together by the non-profit buildingcommunityWorkshop.

    "We did what we said we were gonna do, build six homes and not disrupt the social fabric," said Brent Brown, founder of  bcWorkshop.

    The Congo Street Initiative started in 2008 and centered on six owner-occupied homes all built before 1910.  All the homes needed a laundry list of repairs, but the families in them were determined to stay put.  To preserve the community was the driving force.

    "What our goal was was to help them stay. Put a stake in the ground. People who live here have to be part of that direction," Brown explained.

    Brown talked with homeowners, listened to what they wanted and came up with a plan for each that would give them a structurally sound, environmentally friendly home that would not be a burden on them financially.

    Brown relied on paid staff, volunteers, University of Texas at Arlington students funded by Americorp and the residents themselves.

    Some were renovated; others rebuilt.  The homes were dismantled, parts preserved and used again in the new structure.  Houses that were 500 to 600 square-feet are now 800 to 1,000 square-feet.

    In Garrett's case, the three bedroom one bath home she had now has four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a big red staircase outside stands as a symbol of a bold, fresh start for Congo Street.

    "Every one is different because the families are different," said Brown. However, "the historic width (14 feet) of the front of the home (is) honored" in each case.

    Brown said the city of Dallas will step in now to repair that street that floods. Once that's done, Brown said more than a half milion dollars will have been pumped into the initiative.

    With the renovations done, though, don't expect Brown and bcWorkshop to walk away. Brown said two interns will live in the first house built, The Holding House,  where familes stayed until their home was complete.

    "We'll be a shepherd and guide on the street and stay involved," Brown explained.

    Money used for the renovations came from philanthropic efforts including the The Real Estate Council of Dallas' 2009 leadership class.  Members raised funds to complete one of the homes and did the work, too.

    The Congro Street Initiative has won numerous awards including the Community-Informed Design Award from The American Institute of Architects and the first home completed is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certified, an internationally recognized certification given to projects that are environmentally friendly.