|April 23, 2014 - Karen Jackson can't wait to start hosting big Sunday family dinners at the newly remodeled Speedway Circle house where she grew up.
It's the special place where her mother raised eight daughters. It was Jackson's home and the family gathering spot for four decades. And it was the source of heartache when her mother inadvertently lost the home, and it then fell into disrepair.
But the East Knoxville house has many new chapters of family history waiting to be written, and Jackson credits the City of Knoxville's Owner Occupied Rehabilitation Program.
"The grandkids are ecstatic," says Jackson, who works for a local janitorial service. "This house has seen mega children grow up - eight daughters. There are now 17 grandkids, 26 great-grandchildren.
"Going back to the 1960s, everyone called it the Hines House, and our family, the Hineses, we were one of the great big families in the neighborhood. We're back now, and the whole street is excited. This will be the family holiday season spot."
The house rehabilitation program, administered by the City's Community Development Department using federal funds, offers a combination of low-interest loans and some forgivable loans to enable modest-income homeowners to make major repairs and renovations they otherwise might not be able to afford.
Often, as the repairs and upgrades are financed through a 20-year loan, the new energy efficiency can lead to utility-bill savings that sometimes can offset the loan, says Becky Wade, the City's Community Development Director.
"We help about 20 to 30 families a year, and the goal is make decent, safe and affordable housing available to low- to moderate-income Knoxvillians," Wade says. "But when we're also able to help someone like Karen Jackson to move back into her completely renovated childhood home, that's especially satisfying.
"Every family and every house being rehabilitated has a unique story, and it's one of the missions of the Community Development Department to help people help themselves by repairing and modernizing the houses they've lovingly cared for, sometimes for generations."
This week, the City of Knoxville is commemorating National Community Development Week with a series of events showcasing projects of the City's Department of Community Development and its nonprofit partners across Knoxville.
In addition to the house rehabilitation program, the City offers programs to improve housing opportunities for lower-income homeowners and tenants; to assist organizations serving Knoxville's homeless population; to identify vacant, blighted or problem properties and seek developers to return them to productive use; and to provide training and employment to lower-income citizens or to assist lower-income citizens in starting small businesses.
The Owner Occupied Rehabilitation Program sometimes helps senior residents bring their homes up to code, or helps people struggling with high utility payments to achieve energy efficiency and thus a workable household budget.
The City program is funded at $866,000, and there currently is no waiting list for new homeowner applicants. (To be eligible, a one-person household must have total income under $33,900; a four-person household must have income under $48,400. In addition, applicants must be able to make debt payments, and the homeowner must be current on mortgage, tax and insurance payments.)
For more details or to apply for a low-interest rehabilitation loan, call the City's Community Development Department at 865-215-2120.
Jackson's Speedway Circle house is being extensively renovated. Termite damage is being repaired, and a contractor selected by the family is redoing the kitchen and bathroom, putting on a new roof, replacing windows and modernizing the electrical wiring and plumbing.
Losing the house "hurt me very badly," Jackson said. Her mother had taken out a second mortgage and fallen behind on payments, without telling any of her family members, Jackson said. She says the next owners allowed the house to deteriorate.
Seven years later, Jackson said her son noticed it was for sale and got the ball rolling on her mother's behalf to reacquire the family home.
"He made it happen," Jackson said. "Nothing could have made me happier. I also never thought the house would look like it once did ever again, but it's beautiful."