A transformation in Martindale Brightwood By Jessica R. Key Indianapolis Recorder – For decades, a cloud of darkness has hovered over the Martindale Brightwood neighborhood. Residents have had to deal with high crime, abandoned homes, and gang and drug activity among other ills. The sun is beginning to shine on the Eastside neighborhood with positive change that’s spearheaded by the area community development corporation, a real estate company and residents who are fired up and ready for something new.

If you’re ever in the Martindale Brightwood neighborhood, you may find Elizabeth Rowley happily sitting on the porch of her rented home. “I moved away from the neighborhood for about 10 years and everywhere I moved it was so expensive. I said ‘I’m going back to Martindale Brightwood,” said Rowley. “I looked around, saw this house and loved it.” Since moving into her home in 2004, she’s dealt with various property managers, but is happy with her current landlord, Mt. Helix. When she has a maintenance request, they fix the issue quickly and they recently repainted her home, added new carpeting, new blinds and provided her with new kitchen cabinets. An upgrade to the exterior of her home is expected to take place next spring. Not only is Rowley pleased with the care her landlord has given her home, as an older woman on a fixed income, she’s happy her rent has remained at $470 even after the company acquired the property on which she lives. Over the years, many have disregarded the Martindale Brightwood area as viable, but the California-based company, Mt. Helix, saw the area as an asset. “On paper, this wasn’t a good investment, but we wanted to demonstrate that we were committed to restoring these properties and bringing them back to life. We wanted to try to bring back what the city passed by,” said Joseph Nelson, CEO of Mt. Helix Real Estate Investment Fund, LLC.

Mt. Helix has recently rehabbed multiple homes in the Martindale Brightwood area. This opportunity for both the company and individuals looking to live in affordable homes was made possible by the Martindale Brightwood Community Development Corp.

“We weren’t able to successfully control and manage the 67 units. Eighty percent of them had been vacant, vandalized, missing plumbing, you name it. It was a real drain on the CDC,” said Josephine Rogers, executive director of the Martindale Brightwood CDC. Looking to lift its burden, the CDC began pursuing the sale of the properties in 2012. Mt. Helix approached the CDC and they agreed on the sale. Shortly after the acquisition, Mt. Helix began work on over 60 properties in the Martindale Brightwood area which included new plumbing, fixtures, paint and dry wall; repairs or replacement for heating, cooling and water systems; electrical upgrades; new carpet and flooring; and window, door and roof repairs among other upgrades. They were able to rehab each home for about $10,000 to $15,000, still being able to use quality materials and appliances. All but three remodeled units in the area are currently leased. Tenants completed significant background checks in order to be selected as renters. Furthermore, many of the residents in the rehabbed homes are former Martindale Brightwood residents who, like Rowley, wanted to return to their beloved neighborhood. Rogers said although the Martindale Brightwood CDC no longer owns the properties, they are responsible for the well-being of the entire neighborhood and are holding Mt. Helix accountable for keeping up the properties and selecting and maintaining law abiding residents.

“We’re working on a new program that we’ll be unveiling soon that will help renters become home owners,” added Nelson. Over the years Martindale Brightwood, which has a high percentage of older, less educated and low income residents, has garnered a bad reputation that residents and others invested in the neighborhood have worked hard to transform. Rogers believes the newly rehabbed homes add to the positive changes going on in the area. As a long-time resident of the neighborhood, Rowley agrees. “I tell everybody, crime is everywhere no matter where you live,” Rowley said. “When I first moved back, the neighborhood was bad, but they’re cleaning it up and we don’t have very many problems. For me, I tell the dope boys, ‘don’t stop in front of my house. If you’re supposed to be down the street, go down the street. Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you because I will dial 911.’” Rowley is happy living in her neighborhood but said there are some properties that have fallen through the cracks, meaning the landlord can’t be located and the city has not done anything about the problem. She’d like to see that change soon.

Those 60-plus Mt. Helix-managed homes may have seen a lot of love, but Rogers reminds longtime residents that the CDC offers benefits such as home repair programs and rental education. They also help residents with job readiness training, youth employment opportunities, and advocate against illegal dumping on behalf of residents. “We also have projects on the drawing board for 2014. One in particular is ‘Paint the Town’ where we’re selecting an area in Martindale Brightwood and do a block-by-block house painting and murals on vacant properties,” Rogers said. “We also have a resident-driven quality of life plan that we plan to unveil next year. The residents also combined their efforts and formed Martindale Brightwood One Voice to engage more residents.” Although Rogers and her CDC staff are holding Mt. Helix accountable to their commitment to improving the neighborhood, she views the acquisition as a win for the neighborhood. “They are here for us and we work collaboratively to make our community more attractive for new businesses and economic development opportunities,” said Rogers. Since rehabbing the homes in Martindale Brightwood, Mt. Helix has expanded its presence in Central Indiana and is working on projects similar to the Eastside neighborhood acquisition in other blighted areas of the city.