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HabiJax helping with New Town's revitalization

4:54 PM, Oct 1, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Monday afternoon at Habitat for Humanity's new model home on Windle Street in New Town. 

HabiJax (Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville) has already built 140 new homes in the neighborhood and plans to build an additional 100 over the next four years. It's part of a larger effort to revitalize the area.

Lisa Shockley Reynolds grew up in New Town and said as a child, her parents forbid her walking down Windle Street.

"You had a pathway that used to go right through there and they used to come through here and buy their drugs. A lot of shootouts, but all of that has changed," Reynolds said.

Now when she sits on her father's Windle Street porch, she sees well-manicured lawns and a neighborhood full of new Habitat for Humanity homes.

"The murder rate has decreased. The drugs have decreased ... I wouldn't walk down here a few months ago, but you can see the change. Now I actually walk from one place to another ... I wouldn't have done that (in the past) because there were shootings and stabbings so bad."

Crime here has dropped significantly according to Pedro Cohens, Executive Director of the New Town Success Zone. He said it's down 40 percent since 2010. He credits that in large part to a public-private effort to make New Town a destination where people want to live, work and play.

"The first thing we are doing is establishing a new presence of law enforcement where now people see law enforcement as part of the success of the neighborhood," Cohen said. "We are also working with the schools in the neighborhood again to raise those elements up that make people proud to be in a spot like this."

HabiJax didn't just want to build houses in New Town. The nonprofit wanted to have a presence in the community, and so the idea to open a model home here was born.

"We wanted to have a place here where individuals could come, see the home and also receive housing counseling opportunities as well," said Angela Leatherbury, Habitat for Humanity Operations Director.

And the work here is not about to stop, according to those involved. The New Town Success Zone is celebrating its fifth anniversary, and plans to celebrate many more.

"Everything we have done is to make sure neighbors know we are here for the long haul and HabiJax is a big a part of the work we are doing here in the neighborhood," said Cohen.

On Tuesday at 4 p.m., the mayor is expected to be on hand for the grand opening of Success Park two streets over from HabiJax's new model home. The park is located at the corner of Pierce and King streets in New Town.

To learn more about New Town Success Zone, click here.

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