Lifting Up a Neighborhood: Is Windsor’s Jarvis Street Poised for Renewal?
One house on Jarvis Street in Windsor is not like the others. Freshly painted in a bright, almost electric green, with gleaming new windows and doors, resting on elevated blocks it also has a bit of a towering effect.
“About three feet and change,” Bob Haight tells me when I ask how high the house was lifted from its original foundation.
And on this particular street overlooking the Connecticut River, at this particular elevation in the floodplain, a vertical increase of three feet, Haight says, is the difference between nothing happening in this neighborhood and the start of something happening. This house signifies that something.
Mention of “Jarvis Street” in and around Windsor usually elicits a strong response. Depending on who you talk to, the area which technically includes Jarvis, National, Acme, and River Streets, largely lined with small cottage-like homes, is either the epicenter of the town’s crime problem, where you wouldn’t think of walking late at night, or an unusually tight-knit micro-community that looks out for its own. However people think about it, the reality of Jarvis Street’s decaying facades, and how to affordably restore them, has kept property owners and town officials in a kind of paralysis for decades.
A snapshot of the house on Jarvis Street before any work began.
But Haight, under the auspices of the Windsor Improvement Corporation (WIC), a local non-profit that spearheads a number of community revitalization efforts, sees in this bright green house an opportunity with unique potential for the neighborhood and the town.
WIC purchased the property in 2016 and took an experimental approach to its restoration, with the intention of building a roadmap that other homeowners could follow, including guidance on efficiency upgrades, anticipated costs, and bank loan strategy. “This project means we now have a plan for others to be able to do the same,” says Haight.
The first major expense—the one involving lifting the house three feet—is one you can’t avoid. At Jarvis Street’s floodplain elevation, three feet is the threshold by which much else can reasonably happen. It clears a homeowner from needing permits to make further renovations, and it meets the bank’s requirements to qualify for a home improvement loan.
The house stands three feet higher.
What did it cost WIC to lift the house three feet and change? About $15,000, according to Haight, though homes with basements (and sub-level heating systems to raise along with it) would run considerably more.
Questions about WIC’s overall investment far exceeding the property’s market value aren’t unfounded, but the organization feels it’s in a unique position to “take in on the chin” and set a replicable example. “We’re trying to make things happen that otherwise wouldn’t,” says Haight. “And if anybody else wants to do something with their house, with our experience we really know how to be helpful.”
Contrary to murmured concerns, though, taxpayers aren’t footing the bill. WIC’s financial obligation to Windsor is through a long-standing revolving loan fund managed by the town, which has financed other historic property restorations, including most recently Stoughton House, now a senior living facility on Main Street. WIC plans to repay the loan with the monthly rent received from the Jarvis Street house.
And that’s the next step: finding a tenant. Someone willing to take a leap of faith, who shares WIC’s vision of a little renaissance by the river.
Katie Gilbert, a local real estate agent and Windsor native who also serves on WIC’s board, is overseeing the rental process, and while she’s all too familiar with Jarvis Street’s public perception, she has an appreciation for the neighborhood. “My father grew up on this street, and I still have family who live down here,” she says. “There are good people here.”
Of the house itself, she says she remembers first exploring the renovated interior, a single occupancy loft-style dwelling. “I thought, ‘I can’t believe how much I like this place!’”
WIC is asking $1,100 a month in rent, which may not be as outrageous as it sounds, given the home’s squeaky-clean amenities and energy efficiency (thanks in part to a heat pump system donated by Vital Communities). According to Haight, other renters on Jarvis pay as much as $950 a month, and even more in utilities.
Gilbert hopes the old home’s new life changes more than just what outsiders think of Jarvis Street. “One of the challenges will be changing the perception of homeowners here, to get them to see that they can do this, too,” she says. “You want people to have personal pride and to be psyched to come home.”
Click here for a photo journey through the Jarvis Street house restoration and to learn more about the vision for the neighborhood.
This article and "The Lowdown" are a production of Story Kitchen Creative.