My wife and I, in 2007, embarked an adventure that, I am happy to say, is still a work in process. We had just moved from Jacksonville, FL to Houston. We felt we were moving to Houston for reasons other than being closer to our families, the Astros, and good Mexican food.
Before Jacksonville, we had lived and owned a home in Dallas. Unfortunately, the landlocked Big-D did not cater to our fun-n-sun lifestyle, so we sold our home in 2003 and moved across the country to where we had dreams of living on the beach and being tan all the time.
However, we did not study enough on how the economy was changing. The home that we had just sold for just fewer than 200K in Dallas would now nearly worth 500K in Jacksonville and over a million close to the beach. Apparently, we were not the only people who enjoyed the fun-n-sun lifestyle. Even the condemned homes in Jacksonville that we would fix up would cost about the same as our completely renovated home in Dallas and the only things that were affordable was in the condominium market. However, that market has crashed; I am glad that we decided not to buy one. Since we had some debt from our Dallas renovation and move, not being able to afford a home was just one of many doors that closed in Jacksonville.
On the other hand, Houston was a little less greedy with our pocketbook. While we were in Jacksonville, we started looking online at potential homes that we could purchase near downtown. We could not believe the affordability of some of those homes, and so we decided we would find a broken down home and fix it up in an "up and coming" urban neighborhood near downtown.
We looked at several urban neighborhoods “inside the loop” but several things kept moving us toward Riverside Terrace. It was near where Rachel was going to work at M.D. Anderson Hospital. The architecture in the neighborhood was beautiful and it was not your typical cookie cutter neighborhood. You know the ones you see in the suburbs. The ones where you risk pulling into a neighbor’s driveway because it looks just like yours.
We immediately started to search for a real estate agent that could help us locate the right house in the Riverside Terrace. We also spoke with all of our friends and told them that we were living in Houston and about the area; we were looking to move to. The realtors and our friends all had the same initial reaction...Shock. They would pause for a very uncomfortable time, and then say, “Are you sure?”
One friend, who is brutally honest, told us that we were idiots for even considering that area. We took their advice with a grain of salt and kept our rose-colored glasses on and as soon as we found a real estate agent, we called her and asked her about the neighborhood. The real estate agent, who was a nice woman in her mid-20s, was careful with her words from the start so she would not get into some perceived trouble. In an effort to save time and be more, productive we decided to look at a few options, since we were there a day early. Our goal was to cut some homes to save time later. Rachel and I were excited. We started looking at houses online and started to look at home improvement books for ideas of how to remodel our future dream home.
As soon as we pulled into Riverside Terrace, we realized why our friends and realtors were acting weird when we would tell them we were looking to live there, but not as weird as the looks that we were getting from what might be our potential neighbors.
Rachel and I are what you would call the epitome of a white couple and this neighborhood was a black neighborhood, so we stuck out like a sore thumb while we drove slowly in our rental car, which happened to also be white, looking at vacant homes for sale.
I started to get a serious sense of fear in my stomach while we drove around. I looked at my wife and you could tell she was scared as well. We probably were more concerned with the look at that point than the houses.
Now do not get me wrong, we did not have problems with living there because of our color. After all, when we moved into our home in Dallas, it was pretty much a total Hispanic neighborhood. Moreover, I must say was one of the greatest experiences we had in our lives, living there. We were just afraid that we were not going to be accepted in this neighborhood.
We started to talk about it. We decided, for the most part, that all of the research that we had put to looking for homes in Riverside Terrace was now a waste, because we just felt too much like an outsider in this neighborhood.
Every time we would drive by a house, Rachel or I would find some sort of flaw in it to disqualify it from the list until we finally ran out of houses to look at, even though something in my heart was at peace because of this neighborhood. I just did not understand what gave me this peace.
We met up with our real estate agent and told her that we drove through the neighborhood before we came to the appointment. She stopped organizing her papers and looked at us with a blank stare. She asked us what we thought of it. Rachel and I both told her that we loved the houses, but we were afraid we were going to stick out like a sore “white” thumb. She kind of laughed and said that she felt we might say that. We immediately started searching in an alternate neighborhood for options. We left Houston that weekend so defeated and upset. We had hoped that this neighborhood was where our next home would be. God had kept closing doors on all of the homes that we liked in the alternate neighborhood because it was just a little expensive for our dreams of becoming the next do it yourself couple on HGTV, or people would offer on the homes before we could get our offer in.
For some reason, I kept feeling God still leading me to Riverside Terrace, so I tried to be obedient as possible and went into prayer about it. Rachel and I decided not to purchase a house in Houston yet, and we would rent an apartment near her new job.
In the meantime, I was not working, I decided to spend my time trying to find a home in the area and a creative way to finance it since anything we were to buy was going to need a lot of remodeling. I worked with the Real estate agent and explained that my heart was in that neighborhood and I still wanted to look in that area. She was very helpful and our first weekend we moved to Houston, we decided to tour some of the interiors of the homes in Riverside Terrace. We knew we had a big day ahead of us since we were planning to look at about 10 homes in Riverside Terrace. Amazing enough the last house had the most potential. Ironically, it was on Prospect Street. That is a sign if you ask me.
When we pulled up to the house, you could barely see the home because several types of ivy, including the poison kind, were growing on the house. When I saw the picture on the Internet, I did not want to visit this house. It looked like too much of a project for my expertise. We walked in and immediately fell in love with the layout and knew that we did not want to change anything.
Okay, that was a joke. The whole floor plan would eventually need to change except the original position of the kitchen and living room, every other room was to be relocated and/or created but it had a lot of potential. Even our real estate agent felt the same way about the house as we did. We were planning on opening up walls, creating closets, master suites, extra bathrooms, and a family room. This was not a project for your typical do it yourself job. This was going to take someone on the job full-time being project and construction manager. This was way beyond the weekend warrior!
I decided to take some time from working and manage the project. What I did not know at the time was that was God's way of letting me get to know my neighbors, both good and bad. I met the drug pusher who lived down the street with his aging mom who was a widow. I met the niece/caretaker of her aunt/widow next door, the judge’s widow, our other next-door neighbor the widow, the crack addict that lived with a widow that walked by every day and said she was going to help me when she had time but of course, never did, and most of all, Mrs. Nadine. Yes, she was a widow. The one thing that was common among all of them other than they their membership to the late husband’s club was they were all interested in what I was doing.
They had seen that home become so neglected over time and they were wondering what my plans were for it. When I told them that my wife and I were planning to live there after I finished, they were all so receptive and were willing to lend any help they could provide. Just think, all of these people, mostly widows and drug addicts would help me! I was overcome by the spirit of community that was before me.
One of my next door neighbors would not let me put a temporary utility pole up while I was working on the house. She told me that she had plenty of electricity and water for both houses. I used her utilities for 7 months. I always felt that I was taking advantage of her hospitality, but she would just smile at me and say, that is what neighbors are for. I could not believe how well my neighbors treated me.
Mrs. Nadine has become my closest neighborhood friend. She is a young 83-year-old widow that lives two houses down from us. Her granddaughter and great-grandson were also living in her house as well. One day she walked down to talk to introduce herself in her unique way. She would come up to people and say, "Who are you?" So I introduced myself to her and what I was doing. She asked me what I planned on doing with the house and I told her that I planned on moving in it. She was shocked that I would consider living there considering I was white. She explained that when she was younger, her and her husband moved into the neighborhood, and they were the first black family to move into a predominate white Jewish neighborhood. They were always looked at as outsiders among their neighbors until most of them finally moved away in the late 50s to another part of town during “white flight” and left most of the homes around her vacant until other black families moved in. We were the first, other than black, family that she had ever seen who considered moving into the neighborhood, and we immediately became friends based on our common pioneer spirit.
Mrs. Nadine is also not afraid to speak her mind, but she always does it with a smile and a sense of guilt if she lets a curse word slip. She is always telling Rachel that she needs to keep an eye on me, because she is going to steal me away from her one day. I do not think Rachel is worried about an 83 you old widow though. I think Rachel can take her. One time when the neighbor across the street called Mrs. Nadine and said that she did not want us living there because we were white and it was a black neighborhood. Mrs. Nadine jumped all over her and told her that she would rather have us there than her. That surprised me since they have been neighbors for 30+ years. She has truly shown me her authenticity. When I pull up either her or her great grandson would come down to talk or help. Sometimes, Rachel and I felt we could not get any work done because we have to stop and talk.
One day, we saw Mrs. Nadine coming down and I sighed because I had so much I had to do that day. Even so, I just smiled and waved her over. Instead of seeing her typical smile, her face was filled with concern. I immediately asked her what was wrong with her. She handed me a letter that was explaining her insurance was going up on her home. She knew that she would not be able to afford it on her late husband’s pension and asked if I could help her understand why it was going up. As I read the article I realized that they were trying to sell her some supplemental insurance that she really did not need. I explained to her what it was and helped her fill out the proper paperwork to deny the coverage. After we finished the paperwork, she started to cry. I was so confused because I thought I had just given her good news. She looked up at me with her tearful eyes and said, "You are so good to me, and an answer to my prayers. Days before I met you, I prayed that God would bring a friend in my life that could help me understand things. I just not know that it would be a white family. What a crazy Lord!"
I am so glad that Rachel and I decided to move to Riverside Terrace. We are truly blessed to have the best neighbors and now the perfect home. I try every day to repay my neighbors for the generosity they gave to us while we were renovating. I know mow my neighbor’s yard that helped me with the utilities, and have become the Bob Villa for any minor repairs that any of my neighbors need help with.
Mrs. Nadine's grandson walks with us around the neighborhood for exercise and it gives me time to fill the father figure in his life. That is a special time. When I come home on trash day, my trashcan miraculously is moved from the street to the back of our house. We have a sense of true community.
After I finished the home and we moved in, we struggled to say afloat financially. The real estate market was changing and it was hard for us to get a traditional loan, so I decided to look for a real job. You know, God, in His Grace, have shown us a lot of favor and uses our house for His ministry in ways we never could have imagined.
We currently house a ministry student, and host our church small group every week. I finally found a great position with a national fire protection company. When they offered me the job, they had a condition that I would temporarily move to Denver for four-month training at the corporate office. Even though I knew it would be hard to be separated from my wife, I did not hesitate to accept the position. I knew that my neighbors would look after Rachel while I was gone and her safety was not an issue. I do not think I would have felt the same way if I would not have moved into that neighborhood and moved to "the burbs". I cannot wait to get back to Riverside Terrace and be a witness to God's plan. God has given Riverside Terrace “Endless Prospects.”