GARY | Four years after the initial idea was proposed, ceremonial shovels and a large piece of earth-moving equipment broke ground Friday for Comfort Villas, an affordable housing project to be built on vacant lots in the 2100 block of Jefferson Street in the city’s Midtown neighborhood.
The 32 units will be built in two phases, according to Sandra Dafiaghor, executive director of CRWorks Inc., a nonprofit community housing development organization started in Indiana in 2002 to provide services to low-income families. Phase one will see the completion of eight units with the remaining 24 built in phase two.
All the homes constructed by Burling Builders Inc., of Chicago, will be built according to guidelines established by National Association of Home Builders’ NAHBGreen certification system at the silver level, said Sherron Blacks, project manager and housing coordinator with CRWorks Inc.
Comfort Villas is designed to accommodate families with incomes at or below 60 percent of the area’s median income. Additional services, including job training, will also be offered for clients who move into the homes.
Peoples Bank is providing financing for Comfort Villas as part of the public-private partnership.
The CRWorks project was hailed for its vision and Dafiaghor’s leadership by Mark Wuellner, deputy executive director of the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority based in Indianapolis. The IHCDA provided $500,000 toward Comfort Villas.
“You can’t control the outcome, but you can control the planning,” Wuellner said. “This is really comprehensive community development.”
He said the Midtown area will be revived because the many efforts going on in the area.
“This is more than brick and mortar. This is a plan for people to call home,” Wuellner said. “We are building more than the economy here. We are buildings individual’s lives.”
Clients who have moved into CRWorks’ homes spoke about the impact on their lives.
Qiana Carter said she became homeless after losing her job.
“I’m blessed with an opportunity to be part of CRWorks,” Carter told the dozens of people gathered for the groundbreaking and block party featuring Nigerian foods. “My son and I live in a three-bedroom house.”
Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson said the CRWorks’ Comfort Villas “is a multi-layer partnership” and that the current administrative team “is honored to finish some projects started by the previous administration under Mayor Rudy Clay.”
She recalled that the 2100 block of Jefferson “was once a vibrant neighborhood” naming some of the families who grew up there.
“We’re going to return to that vibrant neighborhood,” Freeman-Wilson said. “This is only the beginning.”