Fayette County

Lifelong renter in Lexington finally has a home to call her own

Hazel Lambert, 73, is a proud first-time buyer of a house in the old Davis Bottom area, where she has lived since she was 3.
Hazel Lambert, 73, is a proud first-time buyer of a house in the old Davis Bottom area, where she has lived since she was 3. cbertram@herald-leader.com

On a recent afternoon when the thermometer read well below freezing, Hazel Lambert walked up the street to her newly built home with a pillow under one arm and a vacuum cleaner in the other.

Lambert, 73, doesn’t drive, but the move from the mobile home where she has lived for the past five years into her new house was only yards.

Lambert is a lifelong resident of the neighborhood formerly known as Davis Bottom.

Now it’s Davis Park, and Lambert, who had always been a renter, is the proud owner of one of the first new affordable houses to be built in the neighborhood that was demolished to make way for the Newtown Pike Extension Project.

Lambert’s house is unique because it was built through a partnership between the Lexington Community Land Trust, which is developing the affordable housing in the neighborhood, and Lexington Habitat for Humanity.

Lambert owns her house, but the community land trust owns the land. If the house is ever put on the market, the land trust agreement ensures that it permanently remains affordable housing.

Lambert has lived within blocks of her new house on De Roode Street since she was 3 years old.

She attended Abraham Lincoln School, which closed in 1967, through sixth grade. As an adult, she raised four children in the tight-knit community.

I didn’t think it was ever going to happen.

Hazel Lambert, on becoming a homeowner

Now it’s just her and her little dog, Penny, whom Lambert dotes on.

“She goes where I go,” Lambert said. “She’s a good little watchdog.”

Before moving into the mobile homes provided to residents displaced by the road project, Lambert had lived in a house made of concrete blocks where “the landlord didn’t want to do nothing.”

When she heard about the houses the land trust was going to build, she began saving diligently for a down payment.

“Her dream was to own her own home,” said Rachel Smith Childress, CEO of Lexington Habitat.

Childress and Barbara Navin, executive director of the land trust, had talked about a partnership between their programs beginning in 2011.

Making Lambert’s dream possible became their mission.

“Hazel just took up residence in our hearts,” Childress said. “In spite of what she doesn’t have, she’s always found a way to give to other people.”

There were plenty of challenges along the way, Childress said.

The land trust’s specs made the houses costlier to build than Habitat’s models. The two programs had different ways of doing things.

Both organizations had to give a little while managing to meet the requirements of their programs, Childress said.

And Lambert had to put in 250 hours of “sweat equity,” including helping to build her house and attending classes to prepare her to be a homeowner.

“You learn a lot of things through Habitat,” she said.

Childress said Habitat organizations in other cities have worked with land trusts successfully, and she is glad to continue that.

“The land trust model is a really good model for permanently affordable housing,” she said. “It has some interesting possibilities for future opportunity.”

Lexington’s land trust has built four other single-family homes, and their new owners will close on them by the end of February, moving out of temporary housing provided at the site, Navin said.

The land trust also has two apartment buildings with four units in each, and two duplexes and two single-family rental homes on De Roode Street. They were built by AU Associates as a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit project in partnership with the land trust, investors and the urban county government. All units are leased, Navin said.

She said six more lots are ready for single-family homes. The houses will be built as qualified buyers apply for them and are approved.

Five other lots will become available for single-family homes as more site work is done.

Navin said plans call for about 70 more affordable units — a mix of apartments, townhouses and apartments over retail space. There also will be a building to house the land trust offices and other nonprofits.

There is a lot of site work to be done before that second phase of the development becomes a reality, she said. She expects the site might be ready for construction by the end of 2017.

The city will rebuild the park that was there before the project began.

And, Navin said, “we’re trying to see if we can attract a small grocery store.”

That’s something Lambert would love. She no longer would have to rely on family to give her a lift to the store.

Lambert is an independent woman who finds plenty to keep her busy.

She said she volunteers twice a week at the Nathaniel Mission, and on Mondays she helps pack sack lunches for the needy at Irishtown Baptist Ministries Center.

Her three rose bushes have been moved from the mobile home’s lot to her new yard, and in the summer, she might plant a little garden, as she did at the mobile home.

Lambert said her favorite thing about the three-bedroom brick house is that “I’ve got plenty of room.”

“All these years I’ve just rented, rented, rented.”

Now, she said, “I’ve got something I can call mine.”