The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

13 March 2004

Inverse gentrification

Heritage Hills East is unusual among Oklahoma City Historic Districts: while it was developed at the same time as the ritzier Heritage Hills area to its west, it was platted for smaller lots and a mixture of single-family, multi-family, and commercial buildings, no doubt because it's the first block west of Broadway, a major commercial thoroughfare. And while Heritage Hills itself was given Historic District status way back in 1969, the East was not accorded this designation until 1999.

One other difference comes to mind: it's impossible to imagine Habitat for Humanity building in Heritage Hills, but they're putting up two houses in the East. These structures are so new they haven't yet been listed on the Web site of the local Habitat branch, but I took a peek at the area this morning to get a feel for what's going on.

Last year, Habitat acquired via donation two vacant lots in the 100 block of Northwest 16th Street, and applied for Certificates of Compliance with the city's preservation guidelines. Approval was granted in January, though the standard boxlike Habitat home will have to be modified somewhat to meet the guidelines. Drawings released by Habitat indicate that the new homes will look very much like the traditional Craftsman-style bungalow that dominated the lower end of the housing market in Western states in the early 20th century, a style that appears in many neighborhoods developed in the city through about 1920.

Residents of East Heritage Hills might be forgiven for asking "What will this do to our property values?" I might ask what those vacant lots had done to those values. Meanwhile, the president of the neighborhood association, interviewed by the MidCity Advocate (4 March), seems to be keeping an open mind:

The association is trying to walk a fine line. We want to be supportive as possible of the new residents coming in.

In the past, Habitat for Humanity has built homes in nondescript — sometimes badly descript — neighborhoods, because that's where they could acquire low-cost sites. While the Heritage Hills East sites will cost about twenty percent more than usual to develop, mostly due to the cost of compliance with the city's preservation guidelines, a positive experience here should open up new areas for Habitat, and it might even reassure uneasy neighbors-to-be.

Posted at 3:54 PM to City Scene