CINCINNATI — Naima Jackson stood outside her Avondale home on a recent Friday, bathed in sunshine and flanked by people who have pledged to help save her family’s legacy.
Not long ago, Amy Goodman and David Noe were complete strangers to Jackson.
Now they’re part of a team helping her to preserve her home with a new roof and extensive interior renovations and repairs.
All told, the work could be worth as much as $60,000.
“I didn’t ever think in a million lifetimes would somebody step forward to help a person like me,” Jackson said, her voice cracking with emotion. “I’m grateful.”
WCPO 9 told Jackson’s story Feb. 2. She described her home on Alaska Court as “everything” to her. Her great-grandparents bought the house 53 years ago after moving from Mississippi to Cincinnati and became some of the first Black homeowners on the street.
Her father, Nathaniel Jackson, inherited the home and lived there until he died in 2015. Jackson cared for him in his final years and lived in the house with her dad when his Alzheimer’s disease made it unsafe for him to live alone.
The brick two-story now belongs to Jackson outright — with no mortgage hanging over her head. But it needs extensive repairs, and Jackson said her monthly Social Security disability checks can’t cover the costs. She sought help from churches and more nonprofit organizations than she could count but said she kept hitting dead ends.
Offers to help came almost as soon as WCPO 9’s story published online.
Tracey McCullough, whose own family moved from Mississippi to Cincinnati many years ago, started a GoFundMe campaign.
An office manager with Deer Park Roofing, where Noe is the director of human resources, emailed to ask if the company could help.
Then Goodman, a local real estate agent and fair housing officer, and her husband, Rich, a project manager with NorthPoint Development, both emailed to ask if WCPO 9 could connect them with Jackson so they could figure out whether they could help, too.
By early March, the GoFundMe had raised $5,250 toward its $10,000 goal, and the Goodmans and Deer Park Roofing had visited Jackson’s home to assess how much work it needs.
“I’m pleasantly surprised and happy at the same time,” Jackson said, as she laughed and wiped away tears. “Surprised more so than anything that people still care.”
A call to action
Jackson’s situation highlights a problem that is much bigger than one house or one homeowner.
Nationwide, homeowners with limited incomes struggle to keep their properties maintained, said Rick Williams, president and CEO of the Home Ownership Center of Greater Cincinnati.
“There will never be enough money to support existing homeowners who find themselves in a situation where their home is in disrepair and their incomes are limited to address that,” Williams told WCPO 9 for the story in February. “It is an extraordinarily common phenomenon across the country. And, of course, like most issues, they impact lower wage, middle- to lower-income families more than they do anyone else, and, of course, those families tend to be minority families.”
About 69% of white households owned their homes in Hamilton County in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimates based on data collected between 2014 and 2018. During that same time, only 32% of Black households owned their homes, according to the data analyzed by the Local Initiatives Support Corp., or LISC, of Greater Cincinnati.
That information read like a call to action to McCullough, she said.
“I just felt like now’s the time to show love for each other,” she said. “I saw her story, and it made me realize how much we were alike.”
After McCullough and Jackson connected, that feeling grew.
“The more I got to know Naima, the more I realized how we are kind of the same, and that we both have had obstacles to overcome, and I really wanted to do something to make her family and Naima thrive,” McCullough said. “And Naima is just a great pleasure. She’s an awesome lady – funny and resilient, and I love those qualities. So that’s what made me want to try to help.”
Deer Park Roofing picks a charitable project each year to celebrate during National Roofing Week in June, Noe said. And when a company office manager in Louisville saw Jackson’s story and forwarded it to Deer Park’s leadership team, executives there quickly decided Jackson’s home would be a good project for 2021, he said.
An estimator visited Jackson’s home in February and determined that it needs a new roof, which Noe said could cost anywhere from $9,000 to $10,000.
“We’re definitely going to make sure that she is not going to be seeing any kind of cost with that,” he said. “We will have one of our roofing professional crews out here with the entire project to make sure that it’s installed properly, make sure that it’s going to last as long as we can with the kind of roof that we will put on.”
The Goodmans will focus their efforts on interior repairs and renovations, Amy Goodman said.
She read about Jackson on WCPO 9’s app and forwarded the story to her husband.
“I just wanted someone to complain to about how ridiculous it was that someone might not be able to stay in their house that they own free and clear,” Goodman said. “And he forwarded it to his company, within NorthPoint Development, called Live Generously, and it’s part of the NorthPoint foundation. And he instantly got hits of, What can we do? How can we help?”
New hope for the future
The Goodmans visited Jackson at her house on Valentine’s Day to get a close-up look at the home’s problems and talk with Jackson about her vision for the property.
“We’ve now spoken to a general contractor who has committed to coming out, and once we get that quote then we’ll be able to go back to the Live Generously Foundation and start raising money internally and partner with the person that put together the GoFundMe,” Goodman said. “Ours will primarily be inside. So the basement, some of the upstairs ductwork, AC, furnace, waterproofing, getting the garage door fixed, getting mold remediation done.”
Goodman said her husband estimates the interior repairs and remodeling could cost as much as $50,000.
“Our goal is to not put any of that cost on her,” she said. “We are really going to try hard to do whatever we need to do from a fundraising perspective to get that covered for her.”
Goodman said the goal is for Jackson to be able to keep the money that the GoFundMe raises for ongoing maintenance and repairs.
A WCPO.com reader who wanted to remain anonymous added to total funds raised with a $900 donation that WCPO 9 delivered to Jackson on March 12.
“We’re really excited to get started and see where this all ends up,” Goodman said.
Jackson said she’s excited, too, and overwhelmed by the offers of help – especially during the COVID-19 crisis that has taken a toll on so many.
“I’m still processing that somebody would even care during this time, when there are many other things going on in the world, to help out just a regular person like me,” she said. “I’m blown away.”
Having the repairs and renovations done will allow Jackson’s family legacy to continue on Alaska Court, she said.
“My children will be able to inherit something from me,” she said. “My mom will have a place to reside and not have to pay rent anymore.”
Jackson said she mourned for two years after her father died and struggled to jump back into her “regular life.”
Once she worked through the legal aspects of inheriting the house, she said, “I could see the light, but I just couldn’t see a life.”
By the time she reached out to WCPO 9, Jackson said she didn’t know where else to turn. She was reluctant to be on the news, she said, and still wishes it hadn’t come to that.
But having people step forward to help in such a meaningful way, she said, has given her new hope.
“There was a time I didn’t have the faith. So it definitely restored my faith,” she said. “I know there’s people in the world that really, truly care.”
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.