New Construction a Cause to Celebrate in Dallas' Jubilee Park

Impoverished community southeast of downtown has even an influx of new homes, designed for first-time home buyers

Evelyn Amaya has become her mother.

Her walks through Jubilee Park, the 62-block southeast Dallas neighborhood where she grew up and now works as a volunteer coordinator, are a regular reminder that she knows everyone.

"It's funny because my mom used to do the same thing when I was younger," Amaya said when asked about her obvious popularity with her neighbors. "When she walked me to the school, she's holding my hand and everyone is, 'Hi Ms. Amaya. Hi Ms. Amaya.' And now my kids do the same thing when I go to the store. My oldest one is 15. It's funny because she says, 'Okay mom, ten minutes tops because we have to keep moving.'"

Amaya is on the move this day as she is making her weekly rounds, delivering community calendars to residents of Jubilee Park.

There is more to do these days in Jubilee Park than Amaya remembers from her childhood, when she recalls seeing drug dealers and prostitutes on street corners and hearing gunshots at night.

The community center has become the hub of activity and growth in this neighborhood just east of Fair Park. It plays host to daily adult education courses and busy after school programs for children.

The park behind the main building, which bears the name of Dallas business magnate T. Boone Pickens, plays host to soccer and basketball games on surfaces donated by Emirates Airlines and the Dallas Mavericks, respectively.

The streets surrounding the community center are monitored by a network of 49 police cameras, which are monitored around the clock. Since the cameras were first installed in 2007, the crime rate in Jubilee Park has been reduced by 64% according to the organization. In May 2015 there were no incidents of crime reported in the neighborhood, an amazing feat for any area.

The streets are also filled with the sound of new construction. By this summer, 26 new houses will have been completed as part of the Affordable Housing Initiative.

Eleven houses were built on Ann Avenue, each of which has a view of the Dallas skyline, last year alone. They are now occupied by first-time home buyers, each of whom was required to finance a maximum of $100,000 to purchase the property. Jubilee provided $25,000 for each home, as did the City of Dallas. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development put up $20,000 per home, and Earth Day TX put in $15,000 to each house so they would qualify as LEED Silver, energy efficient homes.

"What we're doing in this neighborhood is we're investing in people," said Ben Leal, the CEO of Jubilee Park, while standing on Congo Street, an impossibly narrow road that is currently the construction site of six custom-designed, LEED Silver homes set to be finished by the summer.
"I think this is really an exciting opportunity for someone who is low income living in this neighborhood."

Jubilee Park is still not without its struggles. Nearly half of its residents live below the federal poverty level, and nearly three in four do not have a high school diploma.

But Evelyn Amaya is proud of the progress that is happening in her neighborhood. And she says it is obvious that the other residents have bought in, as well.

As volunteer coordinator for the community center, one of Amaya's main responsibilities is to recruit people to volunteer their time for free at any one of the many programs offered throughout the year.

In 2016, Evelyn Amaya was largely responsible for bringing in 830 volunteers who gave 32,000 hours to the center, which is double the amount of hours worked by the paid staff who works there.

"It's a total transformation," Ms. Amaya said about Jubilee Park. "It seems like a total dream that you woke up and your neighborhood is different all of a sudden and it has all these opportunities and you're able to just go out and talk to anyone and before you'd couldn't do that."

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