- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

DALLAS (AP) - The streets in Joppa are quiet, with “No Trespassing” signs in many boarded-up windows.

Huge trees cast leaves on grassy lots. Dogs drag trash through piles of brush. There’s a closed school, an unused community garden and a walled, hourly-rate motel. There are wood-frame houses with brightly painted trim next to crumbling once-homes. Tiny neighborhood churches on every other corner run competing crime watches.

More than half of the residential lots in Joppa, a modest southern neighborhood with deep historic roots, are vacant. Starting next year, Habitat for Humanity, with the help of the Dallas Land Bank Program, aims to change that. The group plans to build 20 homes in Joppa in 2015 and 20 more in 2016.

“This, as far as we can tell, used to be a pig farm, but now it’s a big dump area,” Habitat’s Kristen Schulz told The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/1uV57SG) during a recent driving tour of Joppa. “Over there’s a church . it’s kind of like there’s 40 blocks and 40 churches.”

She describes Habitat’s plans for the neighborhood as a return, after an absence of nearly a decade.

The neighborhood (pronounced “Joppy”) sits in a part of southeast Dallas close to downtown, but largely cut off from the rest of the city, bordered by railroad yards to the west and the Great Trinity Forest to the north and east. It began in the 1860s as a freedmen’s town, settled by freed slaves from a nearby plantation.

Habitat for Humanity built 58 homes there in the early 2000s, after a community leader approached the nonprofit group about trying to revitalize the area. But after 2006, other priorities kept the organization from doing anything more in the area.

“We didn’t mean to be gone so long,” Schulz said.

This month, the Dallas City Council approved the sale of 21 Joppa-area lots to Habitat from the land bank, a city agency that acquires tax-foreclosed vacant properties and resells them to developers and nonprofits. Schulz said it was the most lots that Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity has bought in one batch from the land bank in at least three years.

Terry Williams, the land bank manager, called Joppa “a tough little area” where little has been built in recent years and the city has not done much to address problems associated with vacant parcels. When Habitat said it was interested in the neighborhood, he looked to see what lots were available there.

With the land bank lots, plus more than 20 acquired from private sellers, Habitat plans to cut new streets in Joppa and infill a few existing ones with houses. Those homes are sold to low-income families with interest-free mortgages. Habitat wants its efforts in Joppa to attract other construction.

“Our hope in any neighborhood, if you push enough Habitat houses in, that will entice private developers,” said Cyndy Lutz, Habitat’s vice president of neighborhood investment.

Leo and Temeckia Derrough moved with their children into their house on Kiska Street in 2006, as part of the last round of Habitat building in Joppa.

They found it quieter than where they used to live in Oak Cliff and family-oriented, Temeckia Derrough said. On her block, where most of the houses came as part of the Habitat push, the sight of an unfamiliar car prompts calls to the neighbors.

Their boys, now in their 20s, play football on weekends. Leo Derrough can walk to the nearby creek to fish. Temeckia Derrough always said that if she owned her own house, she would make every wall colorful, and she has - warm yellow in the living room and, in the bathroom, a green bright enough to wake you when you stumble in in the morning.

“The feeling I got was that I did something important,” she said of the day they moved in. “You know, you have a bucket list? My thing was, raise my kids, get them an education, be a homeowner.”

She wishes there were more businesses near Joppa and hopes the building push is successful in bringing new people and new life.

“Before Habitat, I used to come down here and I was like, ‘What’s down here? All these houses look like they’re going to blow away,’” she said.


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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