Shawn Seawood and his fellow construction crew members had been working since around 8 a.m. clearing out wood, dirt and other debris from the 40-unit South Side apartment last week. Most of the four-member crew are from the West Side and Austin, and are members of the Austin Peace Corner.
They’ve been gutting the 8000 S. Paulina building for about two week and plan to spend a few more at the four-story abandoned property, before moving on to another site. The South Side project is part of citywide effort by Community Investment Corporation, a nonprofit, affordable housing lender. The rehab projects are overseen by Community Initiatives Inc., a subsidiary of Community Investment Corporation.
Community investment is appointed by the court under the group’s troubled buildings’ program as a receiver on hazardous buildings, where the owners have not maintained their upkeep or safety. Community Initiatives also rehabs commercial and residential properties on the South and West Sides.
Once Community Initiatives becomes a receiver, the organization hires a crew to clean up the properties and secure them. For buildings occupied by tenants, a management company is hired to oversee the property. The nonprofit group has used Austin Peace Corner members on several projects already.
“It keeps us off the street and out of trouble,” said Seawood, 21, who’s been a member of the Peace Corner since his teens.
Angela Maurello, vice president of Community Initiatives Inc., said her group looks to community members like Seawood and to organizations to help clean and manage the properties located in their neighborhoods.
“We look for owner-operators. We’re still the receiver [and] we have them manage the building. They care more about that property because they live next door so what happens there impacts them,” she said.
The South Paulina building had been in the court system for years and has had multiple owners. None of them, Maurello added, has been able to complete the building’s rehab. Most of the properties in receivership under Community Initiatives have similar stories, said Maurello, adding that for occupied buildings, the tenants are often the victims because they’re unaware of the problems of their landlords.
“We actually consider ourselves an advocate for the buildings,” she said. “We don’t get into ownership issues or things like that. We always feel that the best person to fix up the building is the owner.”
Oftentimes, the owner can’t, she explained.
“They start the work and then they either run out of money because they don’t get adequate funding or they bought it and thought they could quickly flip it. The way the economy is, it’s going to be very difficult because the appraised values aren’t the appraised values they were a year ago. That’s the biggest problem we have,” Maurello said. “We can’t have all these buildings just become abandoned because they can provide good housing.”
Marie Boladee, a program officer at Community Initiatives Inc. who works at the actual sites, noted community members’ importance to the program.
“We contact the Peace Corner and they set a date from them to come out. We don’t need to supervise them. They have their own crew. They’re just fantastic.”