On a gusty Thursday afternoon, dirt blew across a vacant lot on North Green Street, in a neighborhood plagued with urban blight.
The dirt came from a shovel.
Wichita Habitat for Humanity broke ground Thursday for the second phase of its Rock the Block initiative, which builds houses to fill in vacant lots in core neighborhoods.
“We’re growing pride, growing hope and growing a better Wichita,” said Beth King, vice president of Habitat’s board of directors.
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This year, six new homes will be built on North Green between 11th and 13th streets as part of the initiative, which began last summer with the construction of seven homes one block to the west, on North Poplar Street. All of the homes are in the neighborhood to the southeast of 13th and Grove.
“Blight brings despair that no one should have to endure,” King said. “With the construction of these homes, pride is replacing despair.”
Leticia and Schuyler Berry and their children will live in the first home constructed as part of the initiative’s second phase.
The Berrys – all five of them – currently live in a two-bedroom apartment, which Leticia said gets “cramped up.”
“We have a special-needs son, and all of our boys are very active – we don’t have room to play,” Leticia Berry said. “It’s a dream come true. It’s a home for us and our kids, and a backyard we can play in.”
As part of Rock the Block, various companies across Wichita agree to sponsor houses in the neighborhood and help to construct them. Families then apply at Habitat for Humanity to purchase one of the homes.
Wichita City Council member Lavonta Williams, who represents the district in which the homes will be built and serves as a board member with Habitat for Humanity, was present at the ceremony Thursday.
“I’m thrilled for our great city – we’re increasingly committed to taking care of our core, bringing emphasis back to our core,” Williams said. “We’ve taken care of the suburbs and the outskirts, now we need to go back to the core.”
King said Habitat for Humanity is trying to focus on revitalizing pre-existing neighborhoods with the Rock the Block initiative, instead of building large-acreage “villages” with many new houses.
The organization is working to acquire more vacant lots in the neighborhood, King said. The benefit of building in a pre-existing neighborhood, she said, is that it encourages other residents to “also clean up their property.”
“The thought is, this is transformative change,” King said. “You help with one block, you move over, you rock another block and you keep doing it until some additional blight is removed.”
Construction is scheduled to begin April 24.
For more information on Rock the Block, visit www.rocktheblockwichita.org or call 316-269-0755.