Ms. Pam Project: Our Origin Story

In the fall of 2012, I ventured into the world of real estate. Prior to that, I was an independent sub-contractor specializing in building performance work.  That’s a fancy name for the following: energy star and green building certification, diagnostic testing related to moisture and air quality issues, moisture problems,  HVAC commissioning and troubleshooting and crawlspace and basement waterproofing.  Still confused? Don’t worry, so were my customers. Building science is a still a 1468456816mystical coordination of a lot of different trades integrating advanced building techniques; not many have proved successful at integrating all the components.  But the truth is, I was starting to get bored.  The industry handcuffed itself and the only growth potential was in the depths of trying to integrate a lot of different residential sub-trades. A lot of thought leaders of the time weren’t just focusing on how efficient a building was, they were focusing on where the building was located. It was some pioneering concepts. Suddenly I found myself noticing the details, interested not only in real estate and the concept of sustainability but how they were in conflict or in line with the gentrification that has existed in urban environments.

For years, a friend of mine has been preaching and insisting for me to “buy a duplex,” I finally decided to move forward. I hired a young broker, who was equally as young as me, and we started scouring the earth.  In Charlotte, there was a host of post-recession foreclosures that were drying up, and quick. I came across a property in an “up and coming” neighborhood of Wilmore.  The house not only looked like it had survived the Second World War but perhaps it was in it. The door was hanging off the front with only a piece of nailed plywood and the weeds were almost as high as the two dead hickory trees that sat in front.  But to me, it was beautiful. Fast forward past the closing, I had myself a heap. One of the water heaters in the attic above had caved in the plaster and flooded the living room, no central heat or A/C, and someone had been kind enough to remove all copper in the home. I thought of it as a “fresh start.” And that, along with a few other side steps, is how the Ms. Pam Project was born.

I had invested in a small, predominantly working-class neighborhood adjacent to an old industrial mill area now called “Southend” in Charlotte. The area consists mostly of single story bungalows.  Wilmore was attractive because of its cheap land and building prices, proximity to downtown, and less than a mile walk to the Lynx trolley system.  The bike lanes along Mint Street took you dead into downtown. It was connected very closely to the rest of the West-side of Charlotte with lots of piece-mail architecture and development, some undeveloped land and mostly African American in population. Within that population, was our family friend and occasional caregiver, Ms. Pam.

Ms.Pam had been in the Wilmore neighborhood for quite some time.  She worked as a cook at Dilworth Childhood Development Center (DCDC) and walked to school.  At night, in between taking the bus for her second job, she took care of her grandchildren and on occasions, she would watch our daughter. She rented her home for quite some time. She was a guiding authority, traits only grandmothers and women who have had their fair share of child rearing can institute. In a fashion that never seems to ruffle feathers, but lets the kid know who the boss is, she was absolutely wonderful. To this day, even as write this, I can’t understand why I felt such a deep connection to Ms. Pam.  The truth is, we never shared much of a conversation. I guess I was just taken back by the strength of a woman who did so much for her family.  Women have a strength that is hard to explain but whatever trait or genetic coding it is that is responsible for it, it’s special.

So, you might be wondering, where I’m going with this?  Well the truth is, Ms. Pam is just the type of person we need in our neighborhoods. Not for some political reason or even an empathetic one, she clearly doesn’t need help from anyone.  But what she does need is a job she can walk to, a bus she can take at night, and a store she can walk by each day to pick up necessities.  You see, while the most affluent begin to march back into the cities, it’s the Ms. Pam’s of the world who got displaced, a well-forgotten member of the community. When I  marched into a local developer’s office to discuss my idea, my master plan, for the Wilmore neighborhood, I was not an urban planner. I had no idea how to develop anything, I just knew what happened once they cleared the lot and got the dirt ready. He was kind enough to provide some advice before moving forward, he assured me it was a great idea. But, he insisted that I focus on the returns of the project before all else. If you want to build projects, you’ve got to provide returns for your investors. This is where I was introduced to the concept of the “Great Inversion” – something I will elaborate on later.  But in short, it’s the mass inversion of the working class where manufacturing and textile style jobs cater to their way of life before the birth of the suburbs. But with the birth of the suburbs, it’s all beginning to change and we have to ask ourselves, how will we keep the Ms. Pam’s of our lives?

When I  marched into a local developer’s office to discuss my idea, my master plan, for the Wilmore neighborhood, I was not an urban planner. I had no idea how to develop anything, I just knew what happened once they cleared the lot and got the dirt ready. He was kind enough to provide some advice before moving forward, he assured me it was a great idea. But, he insisted that I focus on the returns of the project before all else. If you want to build projects, you’ve got to provide returns for your investors. This is where I was introduced to the concept of the “Great Inversion” – something I will elaborate on later.  But in short, it’s the mass inversion of the working class where manufacturing and textile style jobs cater to their way of life before the birth of the suburbs. But with the birth of the suburbs, it’s all beginning to change and we have to ask ourselves, how will we keep the Ms. Pam’s of our lives?

The birth of Re-viv was derived from my love and admiration for revitalizing old buildings. But, I took it a step further when I saw what was happening as a result of my work, as well as that of my colleagues. We’re providing a product and a service but at the same time, we’re helping contribute to the issue of displacement and demographic inversion. No more. The mission of Re-viv, at its core, is to be an investment and development company that focuses on the market rate with a long-term focus on workforce housing.  We work with community members, non-profits and organizations in areas poised for revitalization in the urban core with a focus on delivering commercial properties that don’t strip the community of its original form.  Leaders in communities across the nation of already seen the need to address these hard issues.  In true, entrepreneurial form, it will be up to the private sector to do it.

 

 

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