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North Riverside resident grateful for historic home repairs

May 2, 2024

“So that’s what it takes. A community working together – like a garden.”

Venicia Davis has lived in her North Riverside home for the last 52 years. Built around the 1920s, her Smith Street house has been her family’s refuge since 1971. She grew up in this strong, community-oriented neighborhood where everyone took care of each other and shared what they had with one another. She compared her childhood to a community garden: many hands caring for the plants in the hope that something good would grow. As the years passed, many of her neighbors and friends left her street, but Venicia stayed.

She inherited her childhood home from her mother in 2000, but the home already needed extensive repair at that point. Electricity was never fully extended throughout the home so Venicia had to depend on extension cords to light many rooms. Air conditioning was also not installed, causing near-unbearable temperatures inside the home during the hot Florida summers. Both her kitchen and bathroom needed significant repairs. The worst of her problems came in 2018 when a 50-year-old back room addition began to separate from the main house. The back room’s roof caved in, and the floor of the room began deteriorating as well. She could not enter that part of her home for years in fear it would collapse around her.

Venicia could not afford any of these repairs. Her deteriorating physical health forced her to retire from her nursing career, and she was raising her young daughter alone. There was no money to address any of the huge home repairs, no money to purchase a newer home, and no money to rent a house somewhere else. Besides that, she wanted to raise her daughter in the same home she herself was raised in.

“I’m not going to go somewhere that I can’t,” Venicia said. “I’m retired, and I know I can’t afford all this new stuff.”

Venicia isn’t alone in her struggles. Many of her neighbors cannot afford to make basic repairs to their historic homes, and some are even tied up by intestate property complications. Thankfully, there are organizations working to ensure Venicia and her neighbors can safely and sustainably stay in their historic homes.

United Way of Northeast Florida, along with partners Groundwork Jacksonville, LISC Jacksonville, the North Riverside Community Development Corporation (CDC) and the Historic Eastside CDC, are currently working via a $1 million affordable housing investment to repair historic homes in North Riverside and Historic Eastside. The goal: preserve homeownership and provide a pathway to economic mobility.

Once Venicia was identified as a recipient of the home repair work, improvements began on her home. She was able to get some work done on her kitchen, bathroom, and electricity wiring in 2017, but much of that work remained unfinished, dangerously so in the case of the electric wiring. United Way of Northeast Florida was able to fund the completion of the work, along with the installation of AC and repair of her back room’s roof.

Besides Venicia’s home, 17 other home repairs have been completed and 6 homes approved for repairs in the area have also had work done thanks to the $1 million home investment with 23 more in line with combined funds from Groundwork USA. These new home repairs are bringing the community back together. Venicia takes walking tours of all the repaired homes with her neighbors, reminiscing about the past, how much has changed and how much is changing for the better. Groundwork Jacksonville also helped the neighborhood create a community garden: the Daily Manna Garden. There, Venicia and her community members work together to grow both nutritious vegetables and fruits and beautiful flowers: food for the body and the soul.

Venicia Davis at the Daily Manna Community Garden


Venicia is extremely happy with the state of her home and her neighborhood. She says there’s still a long way to go, but she’s very hopeful about the future.

“It’s been rough, but it’s been worth it,” she said. “Things in life happen. It’s going to go on, but you don’t forget your values. What’s rooted in you stays in you. Don’t let the outside stuff take it away. So I’m grateful and I’m thankful.”

United Way of Northeast Florida continues our vital home repair assistance and recently announced the historic investment of an additional $10 million in affordable housing. If you would like to assist us in this work, please consider making a gift to support United Way and signing up for a volunteer opportunity on our Volunteer Hub.

“I just pray that more people learn to value people and not stuff and things,” said Venicia. “People are the important things.”


Questions on United Way’s affordable housing work? Email James Ellout, our vice president of community impact.