Restore SGF isn't public housing or affordable housing. It's an effort to fix Springfield's 'housing ecosystem.'
Our Sense of Community series on the City of Springfield's comprehensive plan, Forward SGF, looks at some of the goals identified within the plan's five core elements. In this segment, we're looking at a plan to improve some Springfield historic neighborhoods — Restore SGF.
In the most recent segment of Sense of Community, Ozarks Public Radio covered a new push to fix up historic neighborhoods in Springfield — where the poverty rate is high and more than half of housing units are now rentals.
It’s called Restore SGF.
Amy Blansit with the Drew Lewis Foundation is one of the leading backers of the new effort. Her foundation already sponsors a program called Blue House Project, which was fixing up a house in Grant Beach on the day we talked. She says Restore SGF will operate on several levels, blending several programs with money from homeowners looking to better their own properties.
Restore SGF draws on a blend of programs
“Groups of neighbors can team up,” I said as Blansit and I discussed part of Restore SGF's approach.
“Yes," Blansit replied. "And that’s what we’re going to look for, the idea that having multiple houses renovated on — even if it’s just the front of the house, changes the entire feel and look and so how we reinvest back into that curb appeal, if you will. But there’s another segment that will also do greater renovations, but those are going to be more in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, so it’s all going to be a lot of matched dollars.
"The city also has a program, HELP, and that program, homeowners can use somewhat-forgivable loans in order to redo things like roof, window. So we don’t want programs to overlap. The Blue House Project focuses on creating homeowners. The Restore SGF is going to focus on renovating curb appeal for homeowners, and the HELP program is more intensive-type renovations that need to be done.”
“Like a roof,” I said.
“Correct," Blansit answered. "So we’re really going to look at how we create this collaboration with multiple programs.”
Last summer, City Council voted to fund Restore SGF with a million federal taxpayer dollars.
Officials with Restore SGF say more than a dozen banks have also signaled their support. With their input, the new push is likely to be funded to the tune of a million dollars per year for its first three years.
Along with Blansit and nine other heavyweights from Springfield’s business, nonprofit and civic arenas, City Councilman Richard Ollis is a leader of Restore SGF. After he exits his Council seat next month, he expects to focus a lot of energy on the plan.
Recently he joined me at KSMU Studios for an interview on the project, and what it hopes to accomplish.
'Not in the business of gentrification'
A key part of understanding Restore SGF is the reality that it’s not an affordable-housing program, Ollis says.
“We’re really not in the business of business of gentrification right now," Ollis said during our interview. "We’re in the business of trying to eliminate the awful decline in many of these neighborhoods.”
Restore SGF will focus on so-called “middle” neighborhoods — historic places where there are issues that might be treatable. A housing study currently underway will help determine which neighborhoods fit the “middle” definition.
Ollis says his belief is that cheaper affordable housing — which many observers say is sorely needed in Springfield — can develop alongside “middle” neighborhoods as the overall housing ecosystem improves.
I asked Ollis, “Springfield residents, and I think it's fair to say many public servants at City Hall, elected or otherwise, have been troubled by nuisance properties and the behavior of slum landlords for many decades, along with drama in the housing market with pricing and investor purchases since the pandemic. Can you talk about how Richard Ollis sees these issues? And what are actionable steps the community can take to make things better?”
Ollis replied, “You know, I love that question because it is really the impetus of why we founded Restore SGF and that is, as we sat and and dealt with these nuisance properties and went out and, and what I call 'fined them into submission' — frankly, we're chasing our tail. We go from one nuisance property to another, and then we circle back around to the one that we originally did, and it tends to grow the problem. What we identified is what we really need, instead of — now nuisance properties and their violations is something we need to continue — but [what] we really need is capital investment in those neighborhoods.
“We need to take a nuisance property, get it in a homeowner's hands, have them invest in the property — and make it their own. People can go in there and renovate this these homes and make them into not only livable homes, but really up-to-date, relatively modern homes that a family or frankly anyone can, can live in and thrive in. So again, we're kind of working at the other end of the problem from nuisance properties.”
“This isn't a public housing program," I replied. "This isn't some kind of city-doing-Habitat-for Humanity-type program — it’s intended to spark private activity.”
“That is exactly right," Ollis said. "Now, we believe very strongly that housing is an ecosystem. And so we are going to be working very closely with organizations like Habitat, Community Partnership, affordable housing developers — but that's not our lane. That's not our mission. That's not what we're going to be doing.”
Ollis, who grew up in Midtown Springfield and now lives in the Rountree/Delaware part of town — both of which are historic areas — says if Restore SGF is successful in the next decade, families will “demand” to live in historic neighborhoods and send their kids to center-city schools.
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