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    Rikke Van Johnson’s Childhood Home Lovingly Renovated

    Jennifer Rodriguez, new owner of a home San Bernardino Ward Six Council Member Rikke Van Johnson lived in many years ago, cuts the ribbon as local dignitaries watch. The Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches and the San Bernardino Economic Development Association have partnered to renovate foreclosed, vacant homes such as the one Rodriguez purchased. Since Rodriguez’ home was the first this partnership renovated, the Redevelopment Agency held a ribbon-cutting ceremony upon completion of the home and transfer to Rodriguez. No one, including Johnson, realized this had been the council member’s home until the day of this ceremony. Photo by Chris Sloan

    Jennifer Rodriguez, San Bernardino Ward Six Councilman Rikke Van Johnson and San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris smile in the kitchen of Rodriguez’ new home, where Johnson lived as a child. Many years after Johnson lived there, the home became vacant through foreclosure. The Inland Empire Concerned African-American Churches renovated this home through a partnership with the San Bernardino Economic Development Agency, then sold it to Rodriguez. The partnership is now in the process of renovating additional homes which can be sold to families such as Rodriguez’. Photo by Chris Sloan

    (SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.) More than 50 years ago, San Bernardino Ward Six Council Member Rikke Van Johnson lived in a home in the 1500 block of Virginia Street. The home and the neighborhood have gone through many changes since then. Recently, that home received loving renovation by a group of people who like their council member, but were doing the work for a much higher authority.

    “We did all this to bring glory to God,” said Pastor Owosu Hodari. “God has challenged us to help our community and bring hope to them.”

    Pastor Hodari is the project manager for the Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches Community Development Corporation, which partnered with and the San Bernardino Economic Development Agency to renovate the home. Prior to the renovation, the home had become vacant through a foreclosure.

    This is the first home this partnership renovated, but both entities now expect it to become the first of many. The partnership recently acquired two other vacant, foreclosed Ward Six homes to renovate in the very near future.

    On July 1, the Concerned Churches and the Economic Development Agency held a Key Ceremony to turn the Virginia Street home over to its new owner, Jennifer Rodriguez, a single mother and medical billing specialist. No one, including Johnson, realized this had been his childhood home until the day of this ceremony.

    Johnson still lives in the area. He spent most of his childhood years in a house near the one the Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches renovated, and had almost forgotten the earlier residence.
    “When I was walking through this house before this ceremony, certain memories came back to me and I realized this was the house I lived in when I was four years old,” he said. “Jennifer, you are going to love this house. I certainly did when I was a child. And I’m really awed that it is this house the Inland Empire African American Churches has renovated.”

    “Because of what everyone who had a hand in building this has done, I have an opportunity to start my life over in a beautiful place,” said Rodriguez, who had been saving money for several years to buy her own home.

    Rodriguez was able to purchase her new home for $76,000, which is approximately the market rate in the neighborhood for a two-bedroom, one-bath home. The renovation effort included replacing the kitchen cabinets, installing granite countertops, tile floors, new carpets, paint, and new exterior trim and landscaping,.

    “This looks really good,” said Aaron Morrow, who has lived in his house on the same block of Virginia Street for the last 52 years. “It’s what we need.”

    The Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches was able to restore the home with a subsidy from the Economic Development Agency, which the agency had received as part of a $3.7 million grant from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Congress members Joe Baca and Jerry Lewis helped ensure San Bernardino received this grant, and are now working to help the city obtain additional money.

    The Economic Development Agency used its Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant to buy, and refurbish vacant, foreclosed homes and sell them to families making up to $78,000 yearly for a family of four. Families with more than four members would be allowed to make even more, while individuals and families of less than four people qualify with lower incomes.

    Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches also operates a training program to teach young adults ages 18-26 the construction trades. This program assists licensed contractors in the Economic Development Agency’s renovation projects, and gives the participants the construction skills to help them earn money, which will, in time, allow them to buy their own homes.

    “The renovation of this home was the launch of our partnership with the Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches,” said Carey Jenkins, housing and community development director for the Economic Development Agency. “We are working together to redevelop this community for a positive impact on it and its residents.”

    Another local leader attending the Key Ceremony was Mayor Patrick Morris. While he doesn’t have the personal connection to the home Johnson does, watching the Inland Empire Concerned African American Church restore this home brought to mind happy memories for him as well.

    The Mayor told how, some years ago, he met former United States President Jimmy Carter on one of Carter’s visits to the Inland Empire. He asked the former president what opportunities for service gave him the most joy, and Carter told him it was traveling around the world with Habitat For Humanity, which builds homes and helps neighborhoods globally.

    “The next week I received an invitation from him in the mail to join him with Habitat for Humanity in Matamos, Mexico,” Mayor Morris said. “My wife and I went down there, and we were joined by 1,200 of his closest friends, where we built 110 houses in a week.”

    “The thankfulness of those people to have a house with water and sewer and electric lamps instead of just kerosene was amazing. So, when we came back, we put an advertisement in the local newspaper to start a Habitat for Humanity in San Bernardino, and 500 people joined us to build houses here.”

    “When we turned our first house over, the new homeowner went up to the microphone and yelled WHOOPEE! That said it all. Pastor Hodari, we built 32 houses in the four years before I became mayor. I challenge you to renovate 32 houses in the next four years.”

    Morris noted that Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches actually has a more difficult task than does Habitat for Humanity. Because Habitat for Humanity relies entirely on private donations, it doesn’t have to comply with many regulations that Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches does with its Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds.

    The Mayor also noted that Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds can only be used for improving housing in a city.

    The Economic Development Agency also seeks to partner with other local entities whose members have construction skills. It also can work directly with builders, contractors and developers.

    The agency has purchased a total of 84 homes that it can sell to families making as little as $35,000 a year or as much as $78,000 (more to families of more than four.)

    According to Bank of America, one of several lenders the Economic Development Agency can help connect with potential homebuyers, with a $7,000 down payment and a 5.3 percent interest rate on a 30-year fixed interest rate loan, the monthly loan payment would be $722.

    “That’s about where rents are today,” Jenkins said. “But rents will go up, while this loan payment would stay the same throughout the life of the loan.”

    The agency also offers a Homeowners Down Payment Assistance Program, which provides up to a 10 percent down payment for those who qualify. For a $100,000 home that would be up to $10,000 to help purchase the home.

    To purchase one of the homes rehabilitated with Neighborhood Stabilization funds, or take advantage of the Homeowners Down Payment Assistance Program to help with the purchase of many San Bernardino homes, buyers must attend Homebuyer Education courses offered monthly by the NID-Housing Counseling Agency, or the Neighborhood Housing Service of the Inland Empire, both HUD-approved agencies.
    For more information or a list of available homes through the Inland Empire Concerned African-American Churches program please call Pastor Ray Turner at (909) 663 0198.

    For more information on the Homeowners’ Assistance Program call the NID-Housing Counseling Agency at (909) 887-8700 or the Neighborhood Housing Service of the Inland Empire, Inc. at (909) 884-6891.

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