GREENWOOD, Miss.--After 13 years of continuing collaborative efforts, led by Mississippi State University's Carl Small Town Center, 10 families in a historically African-American neighborhood in the Mississippi Delta are realizing the dream of homeownership.
Baptist Town, famous for being a residence of blues legend Robert Johnson and Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman, is a culturally rich community in east Greenwood. However, because of challenges related to high unemployment and rising crime rates, similar to many Delta neighborhoods, quality of life in Baptist Town declined as the economy weakened.
Greenwood native Fred E. Carl Jr., a former MSU architecture major and major university benefactor who founded Viking Range Corp., funded a grant in 2001 for MSU Small Town Center leaders to develop a master plan for Baptist Town revitalization. The plan, completed in 2003 when Carl endowed the center as the Carl Small Town Center, identified the community's key needs as affordable and functional housing, safer public spaces and improved infrastructure.
Following the formation of a new coalition among the center, Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation, the Foundation for the Midsouth and other community organizations in 2009, an updated master plan was released in 2010.
This plan won the 2011 Outstanding Student Project award of the American Planning Association. In 2012, the center was selected as one of only four organizations in the country to host a national Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow, Emily Roush Elliott. She, as an employee of MSU's center and the local development foundation, was tasked with implementing the major components of the award-winning Baptist Town master plan.
On Friday [Dec. 19], one of her major responsibilities--bringing affordable housing to Baptist Town--was realized. Ten families have begun moving into brand new homes, and they are excited about their new roles as homebuyers, Elliott said. The community celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"The neighborhood here has been a strong partner as we've provided education for these new homeowners," she said. "None of these new homes are for rent or for lease; we just divide out what we invest in the project, and we sell it for that much."
New homeowners in Baptist Town include Dorothy Russell, James Melvin Williams, Brenda Gray, David Lee Thomas, Mable Miller, Lora and Michael Gallion, Shakera Harris, Earlene Smith, Mattie Brown and Betty Montgomery.
The new homes come on the heels of some of Elliott's other major accomplishments in Baptist Town. A children's play park was renovated, and a pocket park with seating and lighting was created for local residents. Also, sidewalks, streetlights, signage and landscaping have improved the community's appearance.
Elliott's next major goal is the development of a community center. The space will become a place to foster youth education and community activities, she said.
"I feel like this is a project that just keeps giving," she said. "The greatest moment hasn't probably even happened yet. But installing these houses and watching people move in--it's the biggest moment so far."
More information about the Carl Small Town Center, the service arm of MSU's College of Architecture, Art and Design, is available at http://carlsmalltowncenter.org/.
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