FCH of Louisville’s new leader has seen housing issues from multiple angles
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — When The Fuller Center for Housing of Louisville first set out to address affordable housing concerns in 2008, they went to the city and asked which area of town was most in need of their help.
The answer was the West End — specifically the Shawnee neighborhood and, even more specifically, an area own as Boston Court.
The area was considered desirable in the mid-1900s with beautiful craftsman-style homes. But after people began fleeing to the suburbs, the housing stock began to deteriorate. Hundreds of vacant homes became thousands of vacant homes. Where vacant homes proliferate, so do problems such as crime and drug abuse.
The Fuller Center of Louisville saw both need and opportunity on the West End. Affordable housing was in short supply, and many residents could not afford to build even small homes. But The Fuller Center saw beyond the boarded-up doors, broken windows and overgrown yards. They began taking these properties — often donated by lenders who had foreclosed upon them — and restoring them to like-new homes.
Hard-working families began to partner with The Fuller Center to repair these properties alongside volunteers. They could then purchase the homes at cost with zero-percent-interest mortgages that were far more affordable than renting a single room elsewhere. This planted seeds of hope in an area that was once deemed hopeless.
Few have witnessed the transformation of the West End more up close than The Fuller Center of Louisville’s new Executive Director, Brianna Carey.
Carey was a single mother of two living in Section 8 housing while going to school and working low-paying jobs in fast-food and similar industries. At last, she found an opportunity to put her organizational and people skills to use when she landed a job in 2016 as an executive assistant at The Fuller Center of Louisville. It didn’t take her long to get hooked on the mission.
“I was fresh out of college and didn’t have any intentions of staying with The Fuller Center so long,” Carey recalls. “It kinda was my first professional job, and I didn’t really know anything about nonprofits. But I just remember learning so much about the organization and what it does for the community. I wanted to be a part of it beyond being the executive assistant. I continued to meet with some of our partners, our staff, board members, committee members. I just kept putting my hands in all kinds of hats and wanted to learn everything about The Fuller Center.”
She performed well, but a problem arose when she was offered a raise — it was not a lot of money, but it was too much to retain her Section 8 housing assistance. Like many Fuller Center homeowner prospects, she was a hard-working person caught between having too much money for assistance and too little money to qualify for traditional mortgages and housing. What she needed was a hand-up.
“The staff had actually encouraged me to sign up for the program,” Carey remembers. “At that point, I wasn’t even thinking about becoming a homeowner. I knew that that came with a lot of responsibility. But I went ahead and just trusted the process. I was really thinking about not taking the promotion, but I prayed about it and God told me, ‘I have this for you. Trust me.’ So I did.”
That trust paid off, just in the nick of time.
“The day that I got the letter saying that I was going to be removed from the Section 8 program was the day that I was actually assigned to my Fuller Center house,” she says. “My boss just turned around in his chair as I was reading the Section 8 letter and said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve got you a house.’ My tears immediately were no longer sad but were happy tears. I just thank God that I was in that position.
“I can honestly say that God has been in control this whole time — since 2016 when I was first introduced to The Fuller Center.”
It’s been 15 years since The Fuller Center began working on the West End, during which crime has gone down and hope has been reborn. Yet, there still is much to do.
“There’s still a lot of need,” Carey says. “There’s about 7,000 or 8,000 abandoned properties in Louisville, and about 6,000 of those are in the West End alone. So, the need for us to be in West End is very significant.”
Meanwhile, one thing that seemed impossible 15 years ago has become an unexpected issue — gentrification — as more people now see opportunities in the West End.
“We’re combating the gentrification that’s going on by providing the families that are already there with capital and more permanent grounds to stay there, she says. “The most important thing is that while these changes are happening that we are also not pushing out the people who already live there and have created a life there.”
Her primary focus moving forward is to make sure that everyone in Louisville is aware of the difference that The Fuller Center can make for families in need and their community.
“This organization has changed not only my life but hundreds of people that I’ve been in contact with since I’ve started,” Carey says. “It’s such an amazing organization, and more people need to know about it.”