In a neighborhood known far too much for two sounds – gunshots and police sirens – the noise Tuesday was clapping and the bite of a golden shovel into dirt.
Because, on a stretch of the Flint Hill neighborhood that a few years ago had scores of boarded up and empty houses, developer Vincent James Sr. has not only bought, rehabbed and rented out 66 of those houses, but he also plans to build one more at 1050 Henderson St.
Then he will give it away.
A $100,000 house for a $100 raffle ticket, which will entitle the winner to property, house and everything in it.
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“The only thing the person who wins this house will pay is the taxes,” James said Tuesday as he broke ground on the spot. “We are here to make a difference where some would say there is no hope.”
James, a Charlotte developer for 30-plus years, is founder of Church of God Unchanged Ministries Global, a nonprofit corporation aimed at revitalizing neighborhoods beset by neglect and despair. The raffle will be held in November.
“We are here turning part of an abandoned community into homes,” James said.
James bought the 66 houses four years ago and turned them into livable rental properties. After more repairs, he hopes the homes can be sold to the tenants.
In the community now known as Woodland Park, there are no woods, there is no park. But there is hope, because every one of the little houses is a home.
Rosie Jones lives two doors down from where the raffle house will be built. She’s 43 and has four kids. She works two jobs to try to make ends meet. Before she found James renting out a small house at a price she could afford, she was despondent.
On Tuesday, she clapped for the groundbreaking and the chance to win a house – and for herself and her family having a decent place to live where her kids are safe.
“Mr. James has given me and my family hope,” Jones said. “It is peaceful out here now. It is home.”
Jones pointed out that there have been shootings, killings and other problems near Woodland Park. Without question, neighborhoods with home ownership and long-term renters have far less crime and more community involvement, James said.
His goal is to improve the lives of people – “their minds, bodies and spirits” – by providing a clean, affordable, place to live.
On Friday afternoons, James brings food and more to residents who help clean up around the neighborhood.
Development projects are not new or rare in Rock Hill or York County. The city sells itself through the Riverwalk development. The county north of the Catawba River, in Fort Mill and Lake Wylie, has so much development – thousands of new homes for people with good jobs and plenty of credit and money in a booming economy – that some county officials are considering halting growth.
Signs for houses in some of those neighborhoods say one house costs as much as $600,000.
But on Henderson Street, in this spot called Woodland Park, houses do not cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. They were small, broken places that James turned into affordable housing. They offer a roof and walls and dignity.
James’ push to turn houses that were eyesores and magnets for drugs and crime has been embraced by both the city of Rock Hill and the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce. Rock Hill City Councilwoman Ann Williamson grew up right around the block from the area of streets that James has changed from trouble into dreams.
“We are seeing the beginning of a beautiful village here,” Williamson said Tuesday.
But what about the raffle? The free house?
Three bedrooms, a garage, fireplace, porch, appliances – all of it.
Construction is set to begin later this month. Raffle ticket sales will end Nov. 6. The drawing will take place Nov. 19.
“I’m buying a ticket,” said Rosie Jones, the renter.
Williamson said she, too, was buying a ticket.
James and his son, Vincent James Jr., who works with him in the business, both said the idea is to raise money for the nonprofit through the raffle to pay for the give-away house and do more repairs such as driveway improvements and adding siding to existing buildings. Henderson Street and the other streets still have potholes and standing water problems that decades of neglect can’t change overnight.
After that, the plan is simple – keep going on more rehabs for real people to live in.
“We are turning an abandoned part of the community into hope,” James said.
Want a free house?
Raffle tickets for the Church of God Unchanged Ministries house at 1050 Henderson St., Rock Hill, are $100. To buy a ticket or for more information, call 803-328-0123 or go to cogumglobal.org.
Ticket sales end Nov. 6. The drawing will take place Nov. 19 at the non-profit’s gala event at Events at Manchester. Ticketholders do not have to be present to win.