When you meet Shelton Knight at his Orion Street home in North Riverside, you are greeted with a smile and immediately welcomed inside.
With the soft hum of TV news in the background, Knight is quick to tell you how much he loves his neighborhood. It’s quiet, close to work and the community looks out for each other, he said.
Soon, you notice his living room is adorned with reminders of two other things he loves: his family and his Jacksonville Jaguars.
Knight’s home is his castle.
But this castle, built in 1928, was in need of repairs that Knight and his brother, Willie, needed help making a reality. Knight has lived in the home with his brother since 2010 following the passing of their mother, who purchased the house in 1971. The structure saw little work over the years and needed critical repairs, including the replacement of an aging roof that caused a few leaks in his ceiling.
In 2021, Knight heard about the Home Repair Program from the North Riverside CDC and Groundwork Jacksonville and applied. Made possible by United Way’s $1 million investment in home preservation announced in January 2023, the latest projects of the Home Repair Program supports interior and exterior upgrades and/or replacements to owner-occupied homes that make houses safer and more energy-efficient, among other improvements.
In North Riverside specifically, the neighborhood received a $600,000 grant in home repairs from United Way’s million-dollar investment. In the program’s first year, 23 homes received repairs in the neighborhood, including Knight’s home on Orion Street. Nearly two dozen more North Riverside homes are expected to see repairs in 2024.
“Home repairs are our way of partnering with residents who feel their neighborhood has been forgotten and are now seeing a rise in interest from investors due to the development of the Emerald Trail,” said James Ellout, vice president of community impact for United Way of Northeast Florida. “Repairs are preserving character and ownership in neighborhoods like North Riverside.”
Partners in this work with United Way include the North Riverside CDC, Historic Eastside CDC, Groundwork Jacksonville, LISC Jacksonville and JEA. Dozens of homes in North Riverside and on the Historic Eastside have already undergone life-changing repairs thanks to United Way’s $1 million commitment.
The repairs on Knight’s home were completed in October 2023 and included a new air conditioner, roof and gutter, plus landscaping of his front yard. The new AC replaced a unit that was 20 to 25 years old, he said. Combined with his new cooling roof – designed to keep homes cooler by reflecting sunlight — the new AC unit cut his electric bill in half, Knight said. Groundwork Jacksonville also installed rain barrels to help irrigate his refreshed front lawn. These positive ripple effects of the repairs will save Knight money long-term.
Knight said he’s so thankful for United Way and the partners involved and hopes the program can continue to grow.
“This program means a lot to me,” he said standing on his front porch on an unusually warm January morning. “It’s a blessing for the neighborhood.”
United Way announced in November 2023 an additional $10 million investment in affordable housing. Investment areas include additional home preservation work ($4 million), infill development ($5 million), and nonprofit and CDC capacity-building ($1 million).
The $4 million in home preservation will allow more homeowners to receive life-changing upgrades and improvements. These repairs are an important step in improving families’ economic mobility – and helps residents like Knight remain their castles.
“The roof is magnificent,” Knight said. “You don’t even hear the rain.”