Sunday Prayers: Being an Urban Pioneer, Being the Change

Written by on August 18, 2013 in Sunday Prayers - 4 Comments
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Future home buyer Aaron visits a North Square property in need of rehabilitation. Aaron, who is interested in purchasing and reviving a vacant home, has turned to Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP) for aid in the home buying process. (photo by Dawn Olsen)

I was blind at first. Blind and choked by mold. It coated the walls—as black, as slick as oil—and it left me with heavy, heaving lungs. I couldn’t be inside; couldn’t breathe, couldn’t walk, couldn’t see the potential in the decaying house. So as I crouched on the sidewalk, coughing and spitting, I couldn’t understand why Aaron was wandering its rotting floors so affectionately.

“What do you see in that house?” I asked as we settled ourselves back into the car. “I mean, the neighborhood is beautiful. You can’t buy neighbors like this. But, Aaron, this is … this …” I stuttered, fought for words. “This isn’t worth it!” I spewed, my hands in the air.

“Dawn,” he said in his oh-come-on-now-just-hold-your-horses voice, “You can’t look at what it is. You look at what it could be. The potential.”

I turned my head back to the house. Holes in the roof. Tarps. A questionable foundation. Mold. Its narrow construction. There were trees in the gutter, rotten apples on the steps. A quiet “how?” slipped from my lips.

Aaron smiled. “It is in a wonderful location. It has wonderful neighbors, and is such a walk-able area. It has a view of downtown.” He leaned over me and looked out the passenger side window. “I would be able to start from scratch,” he said, gazing at the property. “I have the constraints of the original design, but can make it my own. I can make it efficient. It’s small enough that I can afford nice finishes. I can open up the floor plan and make it brighter.”

He pulled his eyes from the house and slotted the key into the ignition. “It has potential, Dawn.”

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Visiting his first love, the Elm Street house. (photo by Dawn Olsen)

Aaron had faith. From the very beginning, he had faith. But, then again, his heart was—and still is—that of an urban pioneer. He’s a city dwelling citizen, one who has no want of escaping to the suburbs, no want of manicured lots and architectural monotony. He could see a property in Fountain Square, in Bates-Hendricks, adjacent to the park, in the Eastside, anywhere, really, and see its potential. And with each house we drove past—the small brick home on Hosbrook, a pointy-looking cottage across from Brookside—with each property we toured, he fell more and more in love with historic Indianapolis.

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Checking out a property on Hosbrook. (photo by Dawn Olsen)

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(photo by Dawn Olsen)

“What draws you to a particular house?” I asked him recently.

“Easy,” he said, straight-away. “Potential and history. You see a house that has survived the ‘50s—when people started moving away—and the ‘70s—when people started knocking down houses to build this Interstate that we’re known for. You hold onto the history, the culture. You don’t want to change the fingerprint of the area. You need to … maintain what attracts people there in the first place. You can’t build a façade.”

Façades were hardly what Aaron was looking for. He wanted character. History. Something he could make his own, something that he could chisel out of some of the city’s less reputable areas. Much like Indy Star columnist Robert King, he wanted adventure. Change. He wanted to make his own story.

“It’s not to build up walls, to keep everything out,” Aaron told me. “It’s to have something to take care of. You decide to become a part of the community. You choose your community and you integrate yourself and decide that you want to make it better.”

Robert King’s wife, Tammy, echoed similar thoughts about the Near Eastside in an article published Aug. 5. “Four years ago,” she said, “a need began to grow within me. A need to walk down my street and wave to a neighbor on a front porch, to belong to a house rather than just be the owner of one, a need to be around others with this same sense of living in a community.”

History. Character. Neighborhoods. Indianapolis. The city. Rebuild the city. Buy a house, do it.

But you need more than inspiration to buy a house. You need money, too.

Aaron had known about Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP) for some time. He’d seen the advertisements, the links. He’d seen it on websites. On billboards. On Historic Indianapolis. He knew that INHP’s mission was to “increase the affordable and sustainable housing opportunities for individuals and families and serve as a catalyst for the development and revitalization of neighborhoods.” He, like INHP, wanted to initiate change. And so, after finding excuses to drive past particular homes again and again and again and again, Aaron began the loan application process.

It started with an online form. One that asked for basic information—employer information, household income, what one sought from INHP. Soon enough, Aaron was on the phone with a loan officer, guiding him through the process. After more forms and more paperwork—including two years worth of work history forms and tax returns—the talks begin. How much debt do you have? How much do you have in the bank? How much are you thinking of borrowing? What would you like to do? What can we help you with?

Always knowledgeable. Always personable. Always, always, always accommodating.

“I love this, Dawn,” Aaron gushed to me. “They only require three percent down. I love it. I don’t have 30 years to save up and purchase a house that needs to be rehabbed. No, INHP lets me borrow the money, fix the place up, and live in it.” He bounced in his desk chair, excited. “I think—I think, but I’m not sure—they loan up to 97 percent of the home’s future value. They loan you the future value of the home.”

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Aaron sifts through realtor information sheets. The majority of the homes are historic, and are in need of renovation.

“Well,” I added, “It does say on their website that their services ‘ultimately [help] strengthen and encourage the growth of vibrant Indianapolis neighborhoods.’” I looked up from my screen and over at Aaron. “Sounds like you have a house to buy,” I said with a goofy grin.

“I know,” he sighed. “It’s just hard. There are so many. I see the potential in every one.”

“You’ll know,” I said, getting up from my chair. I walked over to him, hugged him from behind, around his neck. “You’ll find something. And you’ll love it.”

“I know, I know,” Aaron conceded. And I know he’s thinking of the house on Elm Street. The house that started it all. The house with the collapsed roof, the moldy walls, the tumbling piles of insulation. But, oh, the location. The neighborhood. What it could be. The potential. The everything. The fact that, every time we visited Fountain Square, we found reasons to pass by it. The fact that, for a few months, Aaron toiled with design plans and square footage and new walls and windows.

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(photo by Dawn Olsen)

“If I had $300,000 in the bank,” Aaron continued, “I’d just buy it. I’d just do it. It’d be like buying a new house, except I’m keeping the history. Keeping the character. I’m not putting a McMansion there; I’m not building a façade. I’m integrating myself. I’m telling them, ‘I’m here for the long run.’ I want to make a difference, Dawn. I want to be the change.”

Fallen in love with a fixer-upper yourself? INHP’s Revive Indy Loan may be just what you’re looking for.

Full disclosure: INHP is one of this website’s sponsors.

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About the Author

Dawn Olsen is a Midwestern nomad addicted to ChapStick, parallel sentences, books, and old buildings. She was born in Iowa and grew up in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area. After graduating from Purdue University, she took a job as an editorial assistant for the Indiana General Assembly and sub sequently transplanted herself to Indianapolis. She lives in the Holy Rosary district in an old brick building with a 90-foot smokestack. She shares creative non-fiction and photos on her blog, Candidly Clyde.

4 Comments on "Sunday Prayers: Being an Urban Pioneer, Being the Change"

  1. Norm Morford August 19, 2013 at 1:51 am · Reply

    Has he looked at the house on the west side of N. New Jersey in the 2300 block — listed by WINNER Peg Kennedy of Tucker? The neighbors in the house next south are friends of ours.

    • Dawn Olsen August 19, 2013 at 9:43 am · Reply

      He might’ve; I’m not sure. We used to live in Herron Morton, and he considered buying a house on the north side of the area. However, he loves the atmosphere and community of Fountain Square, so the nearer he is to that area, the better. He’s mostly looking at small starter homes that he can attack and make his own.

  2. Greg August 19, 2013 at 9:33 am · Reply

    As a resident of North Square, I encourage Aaron to choose our neighborhood as his future home. It’s a great neighborhood with great neighbors. I hope to welcome him soon,

    • Dawn Olsen August 19, 2013 at 9:39 am · Reply

      We both love the North Square area. Aaron has been in love with Fountain Square for quite some time, so the nearer he is to the area, the better! Currently, I live in the Holy Rosary district, so we often just walk down Virginia and spend time in the neighborhood. It’s fantastic.

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