Blight fighter: ‘I’m trying to make it better’

04/27/2013 4:31 PM

04/28/2013 2:02 PM

Ruby Albrecht doesn’t realize it, but she’s precisely the kind of grassroots warrior Wichita officials want to repopulate blighted neighborhoods.

From the outside, Albrecht’s northeast Wichita home looks like the blight the city is targeting. The tiny house is old and faded, with dilapidated siding and a broken-out window. It’s the kind of house that’s a crime scene in neighborhoods across the city.

Weeds choke a vacant lot next door, where boxes of carefully collected beer cans and bottles sit on the curb.

Inside Albrecht’s house, though, is the evidence of a woman back in Wichita to stay: a first-class remodeling job after her return from Alabama almost two years ago.

“When I bought it, it was kind of run down,” the soft-spoken woman said. “I’m trying to make it better.”

Albrecht has gutted the house, tearing out and replacing walls, putting in new windows. It looks new inside, with freshly painted walls, new modern furniture and all the creature comforts of a far more expensive residence.

Next up is the home’s exterior, Albrecht said.

“I still have a lot of work to do,” she said. “I still have some siding to put up, and I have to replace that window.”

When Wichita is your home, and you have family nearby, any house is home, Albrecht said.

“This is kind of like my old neighborhood. I used to live on 11th and Spruce as a kid, and I have an aunt who lives around the corner,” she said. “It’s a good house for me.”

Albrecht interrupted her remodeling long enough to gather her grandkids and take care of that vacant lot to the north.

“I don’t like seeing trash. Anywhere. Just the way I am,” she said, smiling defiantly.

Albrecht is exactly what the A. Price Woodard neighborhood needs, said Janet Wilson, a community activist working to upgrade housing there.

“She lives here. She owns the property, and that’s what we need more people to do — invest with us, live here, be a part of the neighborhood, a part of us,” Wilson said.

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