HOPE Makes Home Sweet Again
When the Eastmoor subdivision originally opened in Sunflower County, Mississippi, in 1969, the neighborhood of 68 new, single family homes with tidy front lawns was marketed as a step up for low-income families. Affordable housing was desperately needed in the area, and rents would be subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
But as the property changed hands over the years, multiple private developers, investors, and landlords benefitted from hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax credits and rent subsidies while failing to maintain Eastmoor’s common areas or homes.
Sewage backed up into the lawns and onto the broken sidewalks. Houses sank into the ground. Foundations shifted, opening cracks in the walls and ceilings that let the cold and rain pour in. Families stuffed rags in the cracks as a buffer against the elements, mice, and mosquitoes.
In 2001, HUD was alerted to the deteriorating condition of the property and withdrew its rent subsidies. Rather than making the repairs necessary to regain HUD eligibility, the owner began selling the houses to the tenants through a rent-to-own program. A lawsuit eaventually transferred ownership of many of the homes to the residents, but the development continued to deteriorate. Some 20 homes burned or were judged not worth saving and razed.
“There were days I cried,” says resident Alma Mallette. “When I bought the house, it was something special. I was proud to be a first-time homeowner. But then it started breaking apart before my eyes.”
“A lot of people gave up on us down here in Eastmoor,” says resident Eva Bellmon. “They said, ‘This is never going to be anything good. Just condemn it.’”
Farrah Appleberry and her children lived in three different houses in Eastmoor. The first two houses burned to the ground, likely due to faulty wiring; all of the family’s possessions were destroyed by the fires. Appleberry and her family relocated to a third home in Eastmoor; that house, too, appeared to have wiring issues. The fear of another fire was constant; most nights found Appleberry pacing the house, checking light switches and unplugging appliances.
Emma Bush and her husband, Jerlean, tried for years to repair the faulty sewage system that had turned their front yard into a cesspool. On a warm day in 2006, Jerlean spent hours digging in the yard, knee-deep in sewage, trying to unclog the system until exhaustion finally forced him to quit. A few hours later, Emma’s husband of 45 years suffered a fatal heart attack.
“My husband was gone. Eastmoor was a forgotten place,” Emma Bush says. “All I could do was pray. I asked the Lord to help this community.”
After opening a credit union office in Moorhead, HOPE was made aware of the desperate situation in Eastmoor. HOPE secured $3 million from Goldman Sachs to fund the rehabilitation of all 44 remaining homes in the development. HOPE also secured public and philanthropic funds to improve the community’s roads and sidewalks and build a playground for Eastmoor’s children.
Eva Bellmon was one of the first residents whose home was renovated. “HOPE brought life back to this area,” she says. “Before, Eastmoor was an outcast area. Now it’s revitalized, and the whole town is excited.”
Rising from the Ashes
Shari Morrow was just beginning to recover from the financial setbacks caused by a divorce when her house burned to the ground. In one terrible afternoon, Morrow lost everything she owned.
“Everything was gone,” Morrow says. “Just…gone.”
The weeks following the fire were a nightmare of insurance paperwork and a soul-crushing journey from financial institution to financial institution, where Morrow was repeatedly denied the help she desperately needed to try to rebuild her life.
“I was stressed out to the max, 1,000 percent. Note that I did not say 100 percent, I said 1,000 percent,” Morrow says, her eyes filling with tears at the memory. “I had always worked and been self-sufficient and never thought I’d be in this situation. I felt worthless, unloved, and hopeless. The only reason I didn’t pull my hair out of my head was because I didn’t have any money to get it redone.”
Then, Morrow drove past a sign advertising Hope Credit Union. The next day, she walked into a HOPE branch in Memphis, TN, steeling herself for yet another rejection.
“When I walked into HOPE, I heard the first kind words anyone had said to me in a long time,” Morrow says. “It still brings tears to my eyes remembering it. When I told the people working at HOPE my story, they hugged me. I will forever be grateful for that hug. Even if they had not approved me for a loan, the love HOPE showed me meant more to me than any dollar ever could.”
HOPE gave Morrow the home equity loan she needed to purchase furniture, linens, and basic supplies for a modest new home. But HOPE’s greatest gift to Morrow was a renewed sense of worth and dignity.
“When your world gets turned upside down, finding someone who wants to help you get it turned right side up means everything,” Morrow says. “The difference between HOPE and other financial institutions is that HOPE cares.
“I’m grateful for the financial help HOPE gave me, but I am more grateful for the kindness they showed me,” Morrow says. “I thank HOPE for helping me sleep again at night and for making me able to breathe again. I thank HOPE for putting hope back into my life.”