South Shore: Revere rehabs, builds homes to cut student mobility

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Revere Elementary is using a novel approach to try and lower its 32 percent student mobility rate: Rehabbing and building homes to revive and strengthen the community and keep families in the area.

Principal Shelby Taylor explains the rationale: “If we kept the kids for eight years, we could do a lot more with them. We decided that if we could build houses, we could keep them.”

In November 2003, Revere, with the help of two outside partners, launched a two-pronged strategy: First, renovate homes through the Revere School Neighborhood Grant Program; and second, build 90 new homes over the next three years within Revere’s attendance area, which includes several blocks in South Shore.

Revere’s first partner was the Comer Science & Education Foundation, a charitable foundation set up by Gary Comer, the founder of clothing retailer Land’s End and a Revere graduate. Comer awarded a grant of $500,000 to renovate homes, a $30,000 subsidy for construction of each new home and an additional $50,000 to help families purchase the homes. (Comer has also given funds to improve Revere’s low test scores by investing in over 215 new computers, teacher training, ISAT workbooks and after-school enrichment programs.)

Neighborhood Housing Services, which helps administer the grants, and the Comer Fund say that as yet, there is no hard evidence that the initiative will slow down mobility. “The idea is that new homeowners who come into the neighborhood and have children will then take their kids into the school,” says Irma Morales, director of new lending partnerships and alliances for the housing agency.

“Or perhaps parents who have children in the school may consider buying and staying in the neighborhood.”

In 2003, 33 families were selected for the program, based on the number of children they had at Revere and how many years they had lived in the neighborhood. Each received grants of up to $15,000, depending on household size and need.

So far, 24 projects have been completed or are near completion.

Although priority is given to parents and grandparents of children that attend Revere, eligibility for both of these projects is not contingent on it.

“We want to try to increase home ownership without gentrifying the neighborhood,” said Greg Mooney, executive director for the Comer Foundation. The model homes are priced at $120,000 and $130,000.

Cleveland A. Dishman, a homeowner and grandparent of a 7-year-old Revere student, received a home-renovation grant. The program, he says, “is improving the neighborhood. As far as building new homes, I’m satisfied as long as they don’t price out the people already in this neighborhood.”