Someone should make a movie about Vecinos Unidos.
It’s a perfect feel-good plotline, a true-story blockbuster in the making: A mismatched and inexperienced group of Hispanic women see problems in their neighborhood, then band together and get to work. After splitting into groups to talk to banks, negotiate with contractors and deal with city officials, they eventually manage to build 60 single-family homes in their neighborhood.
It all started with litter, stray dogs and homes in disrepair near the Trinity River levees. Concerned with the shabby look of the neighborhood, a few women (half of whom, by the way, were new immigrants) called a meeting, discussed the issue, and figured out a way to stop it. It all came down, they say, to ownership.
“Home ownership is a big step toward stability and improvement in a community,” says Vecinos Unidos executive director Rosa Lopez.
“Once a family owns a house, they have more invested in the area — they take care of the area, and they stay in one house for much longer. We finished the first houses in 1995, and I’ve gotten to see kids grow up in them.”
It took them seven years to get through the red tape of the first big project — they had to find a site, convince the City of Dallas to let them buy and demolish the old apartment complex there, work with architects, construction companies and inspectors to build family-friendly houses, and finally, put them all on the market.
In the end, though, they came out of the project successful, and the community thanked them for it. Home ownership also addressed another longtime problem — perception.
“West Dallas and Oak Cliff have had a problem name for years. People would talk about it like we were this big crime-ridden mess without ever having been here,” Lopez says. “Part of the problem is a growing mixed-culture community, which scares some people. But other folks moving in and helping out? I think that’s good for the community.”
The women’s emphasis on owning, rather than renting, led Vecinos Unidos to expand its services by offering a series of classes on the house-buying process. Once a month, the organization and its partners provide potential homeowners with a discussion led by someone who has the inside scoop on the business of buying, from inspectors to insurance and real estate agents. The organization even has a curriculum, designed and produced to make sure their attendees get the most out of each lesson.
Families who buy a Vecinos Unidos house must secure a mortgage, just like any other homeowner. The major difference is that the organization provides homes at an affordable cost, and also makes sure their owners shop around for the best interest rate, one that isn’t adjustable.
The Trinity River project finished up eight years ago. Now, they’re doing it again.
After the first big set of houses was completed in 2000, Vecinos Unidos asked the community if it wanted them to continue building houses. The neighborhood response was a resounding “yes,” and again the group went to work. The newest project, called Los Arboles de Santa Maria, is the women’s most challenging yet. Though they currently control 26 adjoining sites and are working with the city of Dallas to nearly double their landholdings, the plots essentially need a total infrastructure makeover.
An upcoming fundraiser piggybacking on Jingle Bells at Bishop Arts will assist with this new project. More than 50 items from neighborhood retailers and artists will be up for auction, as well as celebrity prizes, like a dinner with Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia.
Vecinos Unidos Silent and Live Auction
What/ A fundraiser to benefit the new housing development and home ownership classes
When/ Saturday, Dec. 6; silent auction 11 a.m.-10 p.m., live auction 8-9 p.m.
Where/ Bubble, 413 N. Bishop; live auction on the Jingle Bells at Bishop Arts main stage
For more information/ 214.948.0779