Groups rally to restore 120-year-old house

Rebecca Buford, left, executive director of Tenants To Homeowners, and Dennis Brown, president of Lawrence Preservation Alliance, walk around a home at 1120 R.I. on Thursday as Hayley Travis, resources development specialist with Tenants to Homeowners, inspects rotten siding. Restoration of the historic home is a collaborative project between Tenants to Homeowners and the Lawrence Preservation Alliance.

Providing homes for those in need

Tenants to Homeowners Inc. is a nonprofit community housing development organization that helps tenants become homeowners through a variety of construction and financing programs.

It builds homes and repairs old ones through the city of Lawrence’s first-time, low-income or “work force” home buyer program. It also acquires property for its Community Land Trust Program for houses.

In some cases, workers making under $40,000 can qualify for the program.

It’s being called an east Lawrence success story.

A 120-year-old house will be saved from a bulldozer and the vacant ground around it won’t become a parking lot, thanks to years of talks involving several entities.

“The neighborhood was really adamant that demolition by neglect is something we have a problem with,” said Janet Good, a member of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association board of directors and its former president.

A year ago, the Douglas County Commission approved an agreement with Tenants to Homeowners Inc. to lease property the county owns in the 1100 block of Rhode Island Street.

Included is the dilapidated bungalow built in 1888 at 1120 R.I. The organization, with the help of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, conducted a study during the past year to determine that the house can be rehabilitated and that money can be obtained for the project.

“What I’m pleased about is that our two groups, instead of looking at it from the curb and saying, ‘We’ve got to tear this place down,’ we did our research to come up with a plan,” said Dennis Brown, the alliance’s president.

Retaining character

In addition, Tenants to Homeowners has long-term plans to build two duplexes and a single-family residence on the block. The duplexes will be L-shaped with front and back residences, instead of the typical side-by-side duplexes, said Rebecca Buford, Tenants to Homeowners executive director. They are not expected to be completed until 2010.

“From the street, they will look like row houses,” she said. “We have plans to develop housing here that will fit the character of the neighborhood.”

Work on rehabilitating the house will begin this summer and continue the remainder of the year, Brown said. The addition at the back of the house, built in the 1920s, is in the worst shape and will be taken down. The frame of the house will be lifted and moved to the side while the foundation is rebuilt and the basement is expanded.

The project will cost about $140,000. The alliance gets its funding from dues from its 200 members and a variety of other sources, including grants and donations.

The organization entered a no-rent lease with the county for the property that is good for nearly 100 years, expiring on Dec. 31, 2105. The county, however, has the option after 30 years to terminate the lease early if it decides it needs the property. The termination option will then be available every 10 years. The county would purchase buildings if the lease is terminated. The organization is responsible for taxes and insurance.

Working together

Buford and Brown credit the neighborhood association and Good with bringing the various entities together. The organization doesn’t generally get into historical restoration projects. The house is in the North Rhode Island National Historic District and retains enough of its original characteristics that federal rules govern how it can be repaired. But historical restoration is the alliance’s specialty, and it selected Nineteenth Century Restorations LLC as the project contractor.

“It’s a great example of how several organizations can come together,” Buford said.

The county once used the house for storage. County leaders have been in a quandary for years about what to do with the house and the property. They were reluctant to spend money fixing the house if it was to be torn down for a parking lot, which was once considered, County Administrator Craig Weinaug said.

Because of the neighborhood’s historic designation, it would be difficult to get the necessary approval for a parking lot, he said.