Nonprofit group seeks to rehabilitate neighborhoods

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A map shows shaded neighborhoods that are targeted for revitilization. The entire west side of Colorado Springs is included.

Deerfield Hills was a cute neighborhood established around a cheerful community center, park and local school when it was built in the 1960s, but time has not been kind to the area, which is full of dilapidated homes, yards and fences.

But a concentrated revitalization effort seeks to restore luster and charm to the area, and to several other areas like it across the city.

The nonprofit Rebuilding Together is working with the city to rehabilitate the Deerfield Hills neighborhood, which is about 800 homes on the southwest side of town tucked into the corner at South Academy Boulevard and Martin E. Proby Parkway not far from the Colorado Springs Airport

The neighborhood has been in decline for the last decade. Most of the windows in the homes are as old as the houses themselves. So are the furnaces. The paint is peeling, the fences are falling. Water heaters are breaking, decks are crumbling and weeds are popping up in yards.

“The area is depressed,” said real estate agent Dee Tetzlaff, who represents a foreclosed property on the market in the neighborhood. “The as-is sales in there are going for $50,000 and $60,000.”

Tetzlaff specializes in foreclosures and said there have been a lot in that neighborhood since foreclosures started to pick up steam. The El Paso County Public Trustee reports that there have been 16 foreclosures since 2009 in the neighborhood.

There are a handful of homes for sale in the neighborhood. They are listed at $90,000 to $115,000. Most of the homes are about 1,100 square feet with three to four bedrooms and one or two bathrooms.

Steven Weegens bought his house in the neighborhood when he was still in the Army in 2003. He was living in apartments near Fort Carson and walked into his real estate agents office and said he wanted to buy. He was looking for a house with two or three bedrooms and at least one and a half bathrooms for under $100,000. He paid just over $98,000 for his place and it cost him less per month than rent did.

Now he works at a supermarket and has a 5-year-old daughter. There are a lot of things he’s wanted to do to the house for a long time. He’s had someone come out to give him estimates for new windows twice. They would be about $3,000, he said.

“The timing just never worked,” he said. “It would always be the middle of the year by the time I got them out here and I didn’t have a tax refund or anything to pay for it at that time.”

The water heater broke about three years ago and flooded the house. He had to take the carpet out and wanted to put down wood floors. But the money just wasn’t there.

“Concrete floors just aren’t very warm,” he said.

His December and January utility bills were almost $250 each. That’s about $50 more than usual, he said, despite having put in a new front door this fall. Even $200 is a lot more than they should be in a 1,100-square foot home, said Howard Brooks, executive director of the Energy Resource Center.

The Energy Resource Center helps people install and pay for energy efficiency upgrades. With money from the U.S Department of Energy, the city, Colorado Springs Utilities and private donations, the organization can even pay for the upgrades in low-income households and in the homes of the elderly and disabled.

Brooks said his organization is gearing up to do a lot of work in a coordinated neighborhood revitalization effort on Weegens’ Deerfield Hills Drive.

The city and Rebuilding Together have teamed up for an unprecedented revitalization effort in the neighborhood. They aim to do major remodels on 12 to 14 homes on a single street.

“This is a pilot,” said Beth Diana, senior redevelopment specialist for the City of Colorado Springs. “We hope after this we’ll take this model and just keep going.”

The city has identified five redevelopment areas to focus on, including Deerfield Hills, Ivywild, Adams, Mill Street and the entire west side from Interstate 25 to Manitou Springs between roughly Lower Gold Camp Road and Fillmore Street.

The idea is that making dramatic improvements to some of the homes in the neighborhoods will encourage other homeowners to step up and improve their properties. Also, those improved homes will be more valuable and raise the comparable real estate sales figures in the area, increasing home values across the board in the neighborhood, said Lee Mizer, executive director of Rebuilding Together in Colorado Springs.

Homeowners, not just in neighborhood stabilization areas, but throughout El Paso County are eligible for a 0-percent interest loans with deferred payments.

“So the homeowner doesn’t have to pay anything until the home sells,” Diana said. “And that’s key. Because a lot of these people, if they had to pay even another $20 a month, it would be too much.”

The money come from a Community Development Block Grant from the US Department of Housing and are earmarked for neighborhood stabilization projects like the one in Deerfield Hills.

This is the largest neighborhood revitalization project ever embarked upon in Colorado Springs, Mizer said.

The organization has worked with the city on other projects, but has never tackled improvements to more than a few homes in one neighborhood let alone a dozen or more on a single street.

It’s rare, she said, to find a depressed neighborhood with enough homeowners living in it to be able to make a difference. Most blighted areas are filled with renters and absentee landlords.

Efforts are starting now and Diana is trying to find interested homeowners who income qualify. A family of one can’t make more than $41,000 and a family of four can’t make more than $58,700 to get the special loan for home improvements.

While some repairs could start within a few weeks, the city and Rebuilding Together have let residents know that there will be a big event May 12. Contractors and volunteers from dozens of area businesses and organizations will be out to help with a neighborhood cleanup. They’ll paint the community center, which school children will later cover with mural. And they’ll work on the selected homes — re-siding, reroofing, installing new furnaces, floors, water heaters, windows, cabinets, counters and bathroom fixtures. They’ll xeroscape, pour cement driveways, plant flowers, put up and paint fencing.

Even homeowners who don’t qualify for the special loan will be encouraged to do work to their houses that day.

The homes will be transformed inside and out — much of the work done in a single day.

“This is going to be amazing,” Mizer said. “This could really be the beginning for this neighborhood. It could really turn it around.”