Residents living in the city of Oswego have been making small changes to the exteriors of their houses in an effort to beautify neighborhoods. The goal of the program isn't just to restore property values, but to restore pride as well.
Catharine Early has lived in her home on the corner of West Third St. for about eight years. But it wasn't until this summer that she took action to repair an old retaining wall near the side of her house.
Early says she took advantage of a matching $1,000 grant offered through the Oswego Renaissance Association. The program, which is wrapping up its first year, offers small grants to groups of five or more homeowners that want to improve their neighborhoods. She says the projects have far-reaching impacts on Oswego, besides adding a fresh coat of paint to the porch or planting a few bushes.
"It's extremely important because you kind of want to know that your home is going to retain its value, if not accelerate its value," Early said. "So that's good. The more improvements we all do, the more material worth our homes have. But it also is really heartwarming to see how much pride the people in Oswego take in their homes."
Early says five other homes on her block applied for grants with her and some are still finishing up their projects. Paul Stewart, with the Oswego Renaissance Association, says about 200 homes applied for block grants to do repairs ranging from repainting decks and replacing doors to smaller projects like planting flowers. About 120 homes were accepted spanning 13 neighborhoods. Stewart says the association has not run into a lack of support from the city's homeowners.
"We would see neighbors get together in groups of like 10-15 households, and they would crowd meetings," Stewart said. "And they would be excited because this was an opportunity for them to get together on a group project. And the great thing about it was these neighbors would say you know, this is so great, just because we now are knowing our neighbors again."
Stewart says the group has partnered with several organizations and businesses to provide matching grants of up to $1,000 for people performing exterior work on their homes.
"Most of these streets, you have a preponderance of homeowners or rental property owners on a street investing together," Stewart said. "And when they are doing it as a group, because the neighborhoods are a mutual investment, they are very comfortable and excited in doing so. So we've seen whole blocks transforming."
Stewart says the association is focusing on four areas of the city that a study presented last year had determined could be easily and quickly improved. He says so far $10,000 worth of grants have generated about $40,000 in improvements to homes in four sections of the city.
The city is also pitching in to help plant donated trees and renovate parks around Oswego. Planning and Zoning Director Amy Birdsall says in its first year the city is seeing small changes in the neighborhoods targeted for improvement.
"I think it has started to create some confidence in the market," Birdsall said. "It's started to create confidence within neighbors and neighborhoods as well. And why now is the right time to do it? Well, if it didn't happen yesterday, then today is the perfect day to start the revitalization process in Oswego."
Stewart says the program is not just meant to increase the market value of Oswego's homes, but promote collaboration in the city's vibrant neighborhoods.
"Without strengthened social fabric it doesn't work," Stewart explained. "And with strengthened social fabric, with strengthened neighbor to neighbor connections this will continue to work. So our goal is to bring in new blocks, but we also plan to work with the current participating blocks going forward."
Although Stewart and Birdsall say the initial returns from the program look good so far, both admit that it will take several years before the Oswego Renaissance Association can determine how successful the grant program is in terms of home value and time spent on the market.