Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg Making a Footprint in One of Hampton’s Most Storied Neighborhoods
One of Hampton’s most storied neighborhoods is also dear to Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg.
If you’ve driven through Olde Hampton, an area bounded by Settlers Landing Road, and Armistead, West Pembroke and LaSalle avenues, you’ve likely noticed the historic homes, many of them passed down to African American families through generations. The local Habitat affiliate also has an ongoing presence here, building 20 homes since 1994. While Habitat sells homes to all families from all backgrounds, its footprint in Olde Hampton in part spotlights the racial disparity among Black and White home ownership.
“Beyond Black History Month, this is a disparity we would like to bring awareness to throughout the year,” said Dava Warner, Volunteer Engagement Assistant for Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg. “The racial disparities in housing are substantial.”
Recent data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau shows Virginia with the fifth lowest Black homeownership gap in the nation.
African American homeownership is high in Olde Hampton, one of the first places were slaves tasted a partial freedom before the Emancipation Proclamation. Olde Hampton was formerly populated by large groups of runaway slaves. While the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required escaped slaves to be returned to their owners, a Union colonel with legal expertise devised a workaround. Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler declared the slaves “Contrabands of War,” refusing to return three fugitive slaves to their owners. They found freedom at Fort Monroe, with Butler claiming them as contraband just as horses or cannons would be. The three runaways eventually were assigned to support Union fortifications in Hampton Roads, an idea supported when Congress passed the Confiscation Act in 1861.
The former slaves created their own community with flocks of others, an estimated 40,000, joining them. Butler’s efforts sparked a shifting in war philosophy, laying the foundation for freedom for the slaves and ultimately, Civil Rights for all, regardless of skin color. Harriet Tubman actually spent a few months at Fort Monroe, treating the wounded at the contraband’s slave hospital.
Attempts to revitalize Olde Hampton have been met with mixed success over the years. The local Habitat affiliate continues to contribute to those efforts beyond new construction thanks to a recently established grant program, “Rock the Block,” that will lead to much needed repairs for many of the older homes there.
“A lot of these homes in this historic neighborhood are early 1900 homes. They are not quite fit for aging in place anymore,” Warner said. “There’s a lot of rotted-out porches. Some houses still have wood siding. A lot of them are dilapidated because they’ve been going through the family generation by generation. We’re trying to help the homeowners age in place and still have something to pass down to the next generation.”
The home improvement matching grant program, a partnership between Habitat and Hampton Redevelopment & Housing Authority, assists homeowners, renters and landlords with residences in Hampton to make exterior improvements. It’s not work done for free — as with all of Habitat’s initiatives, it is a “hand up,” not a hand out. The application process has identified 18 grant recipients who will receive grant assistance to make the necessary repairs, ideally this spring.
As much as $20,000 is granted per each house. A homeowner match of 10% is required. Applications are anticipated to open for another grant cycle later this year.
The program is currently in need of contractors who will be paid for their work. Interested contractors can contact Warner at 757-913-5854 or email email@example.com.