STOCKTON – The power of a single home was celebrated Monday morning in a crime-infused south-side neighborhood.
For Fred Sheil, it was about taking back a pocket of East 9th Street from slum landlords and drug dealers.
For Michael Tubbs, it was about giving hope to low-income families.
For Carol Ornellas, it was about investing in infrastructure and about positive change in the city’s core.
“It’s amazing what one house can do,” said Ornellas, standing in front of 1642 E. 9th St. “I say ‘wow’ to the finished product. There are still families who want to live in these neighborhoods. They want a place that is safe where they can raise a family.”
Ornellas is president and CEO of Stockton-based Visionary Home Builders, a nonprofit housing development company.
The house, boarded up and neglected for 10 years, was purchased and rehabilitated by Stocktonians Taking Action to Neutralize Drugs, also known as STAND, a grass-roots organization devoted to eliminating drug abuse.
The necessary work was considerable: copper pipe and wiring had been ripped out of the walls, the weight-bearing center beam had to be replaced and a second bathroom needed to be added. A new floor was installed, the kitchen was remodeled and the exterior received fresh stucco. “It was on the verge of collapse,” said Anil Malhotra, a housing specialist with STAND. “Now see it. Many of the neighbors are very happy. This is the best thing in this neighborhood in a long time.”
The work was made possible through a $229,300 UrbanLIFT community grant from Wells Fargo Bank.
City dignitaries, nonprofit group volunteers and business leaders gathered Monday in the front yard to celebrate the infusion of funds for STAND and an equal amount donated to Visionary.
Across the street and behind a fence, Luz Gueria and her 13-year-old daughter, Alexis Perez, looked on.
“At least it is fixed up,” Gueria said in Spanish with Alexis, a freshman this fall at Venture Academy, translating. “It looks better than before.”
Sheil is administrator of STAND. “To regain control of this street, we have to buy up houses,” he said. “We’ve had a fight for years with crackheads and slumlords in control of this area.”
He said STAND was taking particular aim at the corner of Phelps Street and 9th where drug dealing is an everyday enterprise. “This is a target neighborhood for us. It’s been an open-air drug market for years,” Sheil said.
The hope is to sell the three-bedroom, two-bath house for $125,000 or so.
The second $229,300 grant was presented to Visionary Home Builders, which plans to buy and rehabilitate six single-family houses within a mile of downtown.
“Visionary prides itself with its partnerships,” Ornellas said. “Partnerships with the city and with Wells Fargo. UrbanLIFT is about people who care.”
There are three other homes on 9th Street that are about to get a helping hand. Bobby Rhone sat on the porch next door to one of them. He was fixing a bicycle tire.
His dog Schultz lazed nearby.
“I love this neighborhood, but I don’t like the violence and the gangs,” Rhone said. “It used to be nice and restful when I was younger. But it’s senseless with the younger generation.”
Malhotra said illegal immigrants, often 10 or 12 to a house and sleeping on the floor, are often found inside the houses on East 9th Street.
The hope is that the Wells Fargo money will help return the neighborhood to a better time. Together, the two bank grants total a $458,600 investment in Stockton.
Tubbs, a 23-year-old Stockton city councilman, believes it’s possible – and he sees the value of rebuilding neighborhoods one residence at a time.
“There are a lot of houses in the world. One house may not seem like a lot, but it can make a world of difference,” said Tubbs, who this year has launched a Reinvent South Stockton initiative. “It may take 40 years, but my hope is that one day this will be a place where everyone of you will want to live.
Contact reporter Kevin Parrish at (209) 546-8264 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KLPRecord.