If I had a hammer

Veada Pinkney and her neighbors remember the echoes of gunshots, the wailing sirens and the flashing red-and-blue lights that were regular occurrences in the formerly crime-ridden Willows-Winchester area.

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But in recent months, the neighbors’ fears have dissipated, replaced by hope and opportunity, thanks to a complete $37 million revitalization of the area by the non-profit National Community Renaissance (National CORE) and the City of Rialto. The crime and blight that once plagued the Willows-Winchester streets has been eliminated, and the neighborhood has been reborn and renamed Citrus Grove of Rialto.

“It’s truly amazing what has been done for our neighborhood,” said Pinkney. “I am so thankful that I don’t have to worry anymore about what could happen to my family right outside my own doorstep. It’s great to know there are people who still care about making a difference.”

In 2005, National CORE partnered with the City of Rialto to redevelop the neighborhood that consists of 40 deteriorating four-plex condominiums into 152 newly-refurbished affordable apartments to create a safe and healthy living environment for residents and the city.

In the past, Willows-Winchester had generated the highest number of Rialto’s police service calls each year, costing taxpayers over $160,000 annually. Built in the late 1960s as low-cost condominiums for first-time homeowners, the neighborhood had become a dangerous area, plagued by health and safety violations, violence and poor property maintenance.

Virtually all of the units had become rentals with individual absentee landlords. The lack of cohesive management left units in disrepair and with inconsistent rental qualifications for tenants.

Since National CORE took ownership in 2005, violent crime in the area has plummeted 79 percent, and overall crime has fallen 68 percent.

“National CORE has always exceeded our expectations in making positive impacts in our communities,” said John Dutrey, Housing Program Manager for the City of Rialto. “Their zero-tolerance crime policies, strict quality control practices and ongoing on-site family services have consistently brought substantial improvements to neighborhoods and reduced crime rates.”

The redevelopment of Citrus Grove is in its final stages. The apartments are undergoing major reconstruction, and 52 units are being expanded from two-bedroom, one-bath units into spacious three- bedroom, two-bathroom apartments. All units will include new appliances, roofing, carpets, windows, doors, bathroom fixtures, pluming, electrical systems, drywall, exterior stucco and landscaping.

“We are very pleased with the positive impacts we are having on the Willows-Winchester community.” said Jeffrey Burum, chairman and founder of National CORE. “We believe that affordable housing is about providing safe, nurturing and healthy environments that strengthen lives and communities and are part of the solution for the long haul.”

Other amenities being added to the community include a gated entry, centralized laundry facilities, a new tot-lot and a community/ learning center, the project’s centerpieces.

The Hope Through Housing Foundation, created by National CORE, will also provide a wide-array of social services to Citrus Grove residents at the community center, from a county Head Start program, after-school programs and tutoring, to day care, youth mentoring, computer educational programs, adult education programs, job referral services and health screening fairs.

As a master developer, National CORE is overseeing all aspects of the project, from development and construction to property management and delivery of on-site social services. By making a long-term commitment to maintain each of its affordable housing communities in perpetuity, National CORE will manage, maintain and offer social services on-site in Citrus Grove of Rialto for decades to come.

“Where others may have felt there was no solution to this deteriorating community, we saw an opportunity to change lives and create a safe environment where those in need could succeed in education and life,” said Burum. “Working with the City of Rialto, we transformed a neighborhood that had become a mode of despair into a community centerpieces that can become a model of hope for other cities.”

In 1994, National CORE renovated the 144-unit Renaissance Village in Rialto, which had also suffered from high crime and disrepair. The property has won multiple awards since, including “Outstanding Turnaround of a Troubled Property” from the National Affordable Housing Management Association.

Funding for Citrus Grove of Rialto was provided though tax-exempt bonds, tax credits, HCD Multi-Family Housing Program funds, San Bernardino County HOME funds and other public sources to augment conventional financing sources to acquire and rehabilitate the project.

Formed through the merger of several established affordable housing non-profit organizations and social service foundations, National Community Renaissance (National CORE) currently operates 9,500 affordable housing apartments providing homes to more than 27,000 individuals in six states, including Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey and Texas.