Zechariah Etheridge, UNC-Greensboro senior and sociology and African American Studies major, volunteers with the Center for Housing and Community Studies (CHCS), a small non-profit research center, and shared insights regarding his work assisting lower-income communities in need of housing repairs and reconstruction.
Etheridge credits Dr. Stephen Sills, sociology professor and the CHCS director, for introducing him to the community work he participates in.
“He knew about my previous work with the NAACP. Two summers ago, I was a summer organizer for the state NAACP, closely linked to the Moral Monday movement,” Etheridge said.
Etheridge worked with the NAACP on a sister project in relation to the Moral Monday movement. “They trained about 35-40, students, young adults, grad students and some folks in the community, to go to each county in North Carolina to help unify the different progressive organizations there,” Etheridge explained.
The NAACP sent Etheridge to Asheville to work with the local chapter because of his history as a nature counselor in Buncombe.
Etheridge credits his time with the NAACP for teaching him about how to reach out to communities and establish effective community organizing. After mentioning his involvement with NAACP community outreach to Sills, the professor thought he would be a good fit for a position with CHCS. In reference to his current work as a volunteer, Etheridge said that they collect research on five neighborhoods that they have designated as needing assistance by using an internal construction assessment and an external assessment.
The internal assessment survey takes between six to seven minutes. According to Etheridge it questions whether or not there are leaky pipes, if there is enough room to store cleaning products away from food and if cabinets are child locked.
“Basically, things that are very important that someone might overlook or that they might not really have an outlet to say, ‘We really need help with this type of thing because we don’t have much money’,” Etheridge said about the services the center provides.
External assessments, Etheridge explained, include: whether or not a house needs a fresh coat of paint or if tree limbs are hanging over a house where they could potentially fall. Other elements include seeing if there is a hole in the roof, if the homeowner’s gutters are clogged up and how sound the structure is on the house.
Of their progress, Etheridge said, “We’re on our second neighborhood right now. We’re doing Glenwood on Sept. 12 and then we’re moving to South Point over in High Point.”
“That’s the start of this project, like I said it’s fairly new… If I can get enough volunteers to help get this research done, our partner organizations [UNCG’s Community Housing Solutions and the Greensboro Housing Coalition] will make enough progress to merit us growing,” Etheridge explained.
He detailed the process of speaking with residents within different communities and what tactics he uses so as not to arouse suspicion that he and CHCS plan on gentrifying lower-income properties.
Etheridge explained that there are popular landlords in Greensboro who often buy property in lower-income communities. “A lot of people hit up these neighborhoods. Jehovah’s Witnesses’ and ADT come by a lot,” Etheridge said. “It’s natural that people would have mixed feelings about it.”
Etheridge said that after explaining in person what they are doing in the community, they don’t receive negative feedback. “A lot of people direct us to elderly folks, or just other people in the community [we are visiting] that’s struggling, or they’ve told us, on the spot, about things they need done on their houses,” Etheridge explained. “They love what we’re doing.”
Of the communities visited by CHCS, Etheridge said it was in Woodmere Park, a community in Northeast Greensboro, that made him more aware of the need to fix serious issues within communities on a local level.
“One thing we’re kind of battling is housing discrimination, the neighborhoods that we’ve identified are ones that are majority minority communities, with mostly elderly folks who don’t really make that much money,” said Etheridge.
As for which houses receive attention from volunteers first, Etheridge said that it was a case by case basis of which properties have the most immediate need.
He clarified that for residents with a certain number of internal or external housing issues, repairs are free.
“The crux of our organization is to battle the notion that everybody is treated the same, because we know that that’s not the case and we know that certain folks are exploited more so because they don’t have as much of an outlet to voice their concerns about their living conditions,” Etheridge said.
Currently, he explained that CHCS only has about six or seven people working in communities at one time during their monthly community visits. Their goal is to engage about 30 or 40 more volunteers.
“That one day a month where someone gave up two to three hours of their time, helps so much more than they could possibly know,” Etheridge said.