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Preserving A Neighborhood, Preserving North Oak


A neighborhood often provides us with our very first sense of place. Many of our earliest memories are rooted in the landscape of our youth—the streets and sidewalks, the buildings and houses, and the people. Some are lucky enough to find a place that suits them for years. These types of neighborhoods are rare and precious, in our 21st century culture that seems to shift and change so often.
North Oak in Richmond is such a place—a neighborhood to 136 households, many there for two or three decades. In this collection of two-story brick buildings built in the 1960s, little changed here, especially the owner’s reasonable approach to rent. Tenants arrived, and they stayed. When ownership transition recently threatened this stability, Better Housing Coalition (BHC) and Virginia Community Capital (VCC) collaborated on a funding package that will not only preserve this special location, but also support physical improvements, preparing North Oak for its next 50 years in community building.
BHC has been dedicated to creating and preserving affordable housing in Richmond since 1988. BHC and VCC have worked together in the past. In 2008, VCC helped finance conversion of a commercial property, the old Beckstoffer’s shop in Church Hill, into housing. So, when BHC learned that North Oak might be in danger of changing hands, to owners with a different approach to pricing, they felt the need to move swiftly.
“VCC’s efficient process allowed BHC to respond quickly to make a strategic acquisition,” notes Bernard Rogers, AICP, BHC’s Senior Project Manager and point man for the North Oak assignment. VCC’s financing, along with participation by Virginia Housing and Community Development, Virginia Housing Development Authority, the Community Bankers’ Bank, and First Citizens Bank, covered the purchase of the complex by BHC. The transaction also addressed the need to upgrade the aging buildings. Work on a $2 million renovation of the complex, funded in part by an American Recovery and Reinvestment weatherization grant, will begin shortly.
New windows and energy efficiency measures will surely enhance quality of life at North Oak. In the case of leaky glazing, change is good. But the most special qualities still circle back to the enduring spirit of the neighborhood. 
A stable place to live fosters many dreams and, even more importantly, dream-fulfillment. BHC gathered some of these stories while collecting eligibility information. One woman spoke with pride of raising her son there. As a single mom, there were some challenges and the consistently low rent at North Oak helped free up resources for opportunities: like sending her son to Virginia Tech where he is now a student.
Another resident is employed as a seasonal worker for a homeless shelter system. She keeps a strict budget, paying her rent in advance while working, so she can be certain to maintain her housing. North Oak is a quiet, reliable space, perfect for her quiet, reliable approach to living. With BHC as the new owner, North Oak will stay that way for her and many more to come.