Learning the skills to own their own home

It was cleanup day.

Some residents of the temporary cluster of 16 modular homes, set up in what once was a baseball park in Davis Bottom, were snagging wind-tossed debris.

They were members of the maintenance team, one of several groups that have been formed to encourage residents to change how they view their futures.

As residents of Davis Bottom, these people have been displaced, moved from their homes to allow progress to come through in the form of the Newtown Pike Extension. The new road will allow traffic to flow freer for Lexington commuters.

But theirs is not a sad tale.

The displaced residents will become homeowners, some for the first time in generations. As such they will have to embrace maintaining those homes themselves, a departure from having a landlord or someone else perform those duties. Their mindsets must be reprogrammed.

"Some people thought if we give them a new house, then that will solve everything," said Dorothy Coleman, a liaison between the officials who are engineering the road construction and Davis Bottom residents uprooted by it.

So far, 14 families have chosen to live, with rent and utilities free, in trailers that have been placed in one of the most neglected and financially strapped communities in Lexington. Two other trailers are vacant, awaiting the completion of paperwork, and two more are being set up.

Coleman estimates it will be at least another 30 months before the first home is built. Officials are still trying to purchase property, some of which have no titles and no wills to trace ownership. Then comes the utility and sewer lines, the hazardous waste cleanup of the soil, and the building of a noise wall between residents and the nearby railroad track.

"Some people said that was a long time," Coleman said. "But we feel we have enough time to make significant changes. We need this time. It is a blessing in disguise."

While waiting for building to start, Coleman and Connie Godfrey, a social worker with the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, are working with the renters to help them fully grasp the added responsibilities that are coming.

"My job is to help them move from a renter mentality to home owner," Godfrey said. "For some, this will be the first generation of anyone owning a home."

Through monthly workshops and empowerment activities, as well as one-on-one intensive case management, the women are teaching residents how to save money and maintain their property, as well as how to supervise their visitors.

But the issue goes deeper than that when generational poverty is involved, which is what occurs in so many communities like Davis Bottom.

Godfrey said residents had so much done for them for so long they don't know how to engage in community linkages to things such as health care, social security or disability benefits.

Some residents will go to the medical clinic at the nearby Nathaniel United Methodist Mission, but they won't go to the specialists they are referred to.

"Sometimes I have to set up the appointments and take them to them," Godfrey said. "I can't drop them off."

She has helped some residents earn their GEDs and move on to higher education. Others she has helped to establish a trust in banks. And still others she is helping to work through substance abuse issues.

In every case, the residents' self-esteem soared.

"They have the same aspirations as you and I," Godfrey said. "Leaving an inheritance for their children and ending the cycle of poverty."

Godfrey said she worked to earn their trust and then works with individuals and families to find a plan of action that will move them through the maze leading from where they are to where they want to be.

"It's an affirmation of who they are, not what the world has beaten them down to be," she said. "They are good people."

The activities team is planning a day trip for the residents, some of whom have never been on a vacation, Coleman said. The residents are planning for the trip and saving the money to rent the transportation and pay for food and admission. "Everyone is setting their money aside because they have to pay for everything," Coleman said. "It's very new for some of them. But it teaches them to save."

As the intensive case management starts bearing fruit, which it has in some cases, the women step back.

If everything goes as planned, their hope is to be out of a job in about three years when the residents move into brand-new homes.

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