The Singer sewing machine, fully functional with the exception of a missing belt, is a totem of hope in the anteroom of the spacious garment factory at the end of a downscale derelict shopping center on High Point’s East Green Drive.
“I learned to sew on this machine as a child,” said Jerry Mingo, who started Jerry Mingo Design Work Room about a year ago as a nonprofit to provide jobs for ex-offenders and other people facing employment challenges in the poorest swath of this city.
Garment production is woven into Mingo’s identity and history. He supervised the cut-and-sew area for Izod LaCoste, whose preppy alligator-logo shirts were ubiquitous in the 1970s and ’80s, before the company moved its production line from High Point to Honduras in the 1990s. Mingo worked another 13 years as a supervisor in the medicine department at Banner Pharmaceutical before he retired.
He was in his junior year of high school when his family moved into the Burns Hill neighborhood just across University Drive and on the other side of Green from the shopping center. When they purchased their home in 1965, the Mingos were one of the first black families to move into the otherwise all-white neighborhood.
“During that time we lived here we didn’t feel like it was a lot of poverty because people had jobs,” Mingo said. “Burlington Industries had a plant here. Slane Hosiery was hiring a lot of people. You could almost walk to the jobs.”
The 70-year-old entrepreneur gestured to the shopping center, noting that it was once anchored by a Big Bear grocery. There was a pizzeria and a drug store. Now, aside from Mingo’s nonprofit, the shopping center is occupied by two beauty supply stores, a dollar store, a tax-preparation business and a storefront church. Across the street, next door to where another church serves free meals under a large tent, there used to be a fish market. Now, two corner marts within a block of one another — mostly stocked with beer, sodas, cigarettes and snacks — function as an inadequate substitution for the neighborhood’s food needs.
“In the ’90s, when the older people started dying, it became a rental area,” Mingo said. “That was around the time the factories started moving.”
Burned out or vacant houses, often unsecured in violation of local housing code, are a common sight, both on Mingo’s block and along the commercial strip on East Green Drive where he works. Three adjacent houses on East Green Drive, including a former daycare center, have been fenced off, but the gate stands open and sheets of plywood that previously covered the doorways have been ripped down, providing a haven for drug dealers and squatters.
Mingo said people leave old sofas and other large pieces of furniture outside the abandoned houses rather than paying fees to properly dispose of them. The blight also undermines pride in the neighborhood, and he is quick to acknowledge that residents are also guilty of leaving litter in the street.
Derelict properties undermine property values for homeowners in Burns Hill and other distressed neighborhoods because the appearance of the surrounding area makes it difficult for them to resell their homes. And they impose multiple costs on homeowners.
“Homeowners that live in close proximity to vacant or abandoned properties often face higher insurance premiums because vacant properties may be considered by insurance companies as hazardous liabilities,” a recent housing market segmentation study commissioned by the city of High Point found. “Homeowners surrounded by vacant properties also report a lower quality of life that may manifest in many ways, such as social fragmentation, isolation and loss of aesthetic appeal. Childhood asthma, lead exposure and cancers have also been shown to be possible negative effects of living in proximity to vacant lots, boarded homes, high-density traffic areas and substandard housing.”
Mingo’s neighborhood and the East Green Drive commercial corridor are part of a 1,096-acre area designated as having an “extremely weak” housing market in the study, which was completed by the Center for Housing & Community Studies at UNCG. The study identifies five Census block groups stretching from Hines Street in east-central High Point through the heart of the furniture market district and into the southwest quadrant beyond Ward Avenue as being burdened with the highest levels of poverty and unemployment, the highest rental and vacancy rates and the lowest home values in the city. A sixth non-contiguous Census block group that hugs Interstate 74 between Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Lexington Avenue shares the same designation.
Residents of the core area subsist on less than a third of the median household income of the average Guilford County resident. Seven in 10 live below the poverty line, compared to 17.6 percent of county residents overall. Compared to a 5.6 percent unemployment rate across the county, the inner core of High Point is burdened with a Depression-level unemployment rate around 27 percent. Almost a third of the housing is vacant, compared to 11.2 percent citywide, and almost 90 percent of housing is rental, compared to 44 percent citywide.
The depressed housing area cuts a swath through the heart of the city’s central business district, which is populated by glitzy showrooms that teem with buyers from across the country twice a year for the biannual furniture market. The coexistence of blighted residential neighborhoods and the largest home furnishings market in North America might seem puzzling, but it’s explained by the fact that there’s little housing in the market district, with the notable exception of the condos at Market Square Tower, which are used by furniture industry executives to entertain guests during the market. There’s simply not enough housing to weight the statistics for the handful of Census block groups that carve up the central business district.
More than 80 percent of the residents of the inner core area, designated as an “extremely weak” housing market, are African American and 9.4 percent are Latino, with whites and Asians making up the rest.
The UNCG study explicitly acknowledges the linkage between race and poverty. All six Census block groups that received the “extremely weak” housing market designation are identified in the study as Racial and Ethnic Concentrated Areas of Poverty — a federal designation based on having a non-white population of 50 percent or more with 40 percent or more of individuals living below the poverty line.
“Many of the poorest neighborhoods have only limited access to amenities such as good schools, healthcare or affordable and nutritious foods,” the UNCG Center for Housing & Community Studies reported. “Access to retail shopping and high-quality child care is also quite limited in most of these areas. Combined with the relative lack of extensive public transit systems, persons living in such areas are greatly disadvantaged. Concentrated poverty itself becomes a significant impediment to fair housing choice because those living in such areas must spend far more time and money in order to purchase groceries or medicine, find opportunities for entertainment, or place their children in daycare while working. Since employment opportunities are also limited in such areas, residents must commute outside their residential communities for virtually all of their daily needs.”
Drilling into the linkage between race and poverty, the study says, “The areas under study in the core city are some of the most segregated and impoverished neighborhoods in High Point. Poverty plays a significant part in ethnic segregation. Geospatial analysis of the region shows a picture of concentrations of poverty which intersect with concentrations of race/ethnic minorities resulting in an intergenerational lack of opportunity and little chance of upward social mobility. For example, segregated and impoverished areas result in ‘zones of denial’ for mortgage applications, making it very difficult for those seeking to purchase affordable homes to obtain a mortgage.”
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Naming the conditions that define an area of concentrated poverty and segregation can be sensitive. Local policymakers often use geographic or neighborhood identifiers such as “east-central High Point” or “Southside” as substitutions for race and socioeconomic status. “Disadvantaged,” “challenged” and “areas of greatest need” also perform some of the work in policy discussions.
A more direct word is “ghetto,” a term largely synonymous with urban black poverty since at least the middle of the 20th Century. The word previously described areas of European cities where Jews were forcibly restricted through the 19th Century, and ghettos were later resurrected under Nazi control during World War II as a means to control, and later liquidate, the population during the Holocaust. Unofficial ghettos also sprang up in American cities in the North and Midwest where Jews and other immigrants settled, later to be supplanted by African-American migrants from the South.
Mingo said he considers the word “ghetto” to be derogatory. Equating it to the N-word, he said residents use it with one another to describe where they live, but it carries a sting when uttered by outsiders.
“When you hear the word, what do you think of?” Mingo asked. “Most people, when they hear that, they think black.”
The term as applied to areas of concentrated poverty in High Point isn’t new. The headline of a 1968 article in the High Point Enterprise testifies to both the cyclical concern about poverty and the stubborn persistence of the problem: “Citizens Group is Formed to Fight Slum Conditions — Goal: To Eliminate the Ghetto in the City’s Southwest Quadrant.”
The word “ghetto” is enmeshed in a painful history of racism in High Point. Recalling what it was like to be a member of one of the first black families to move into the previously all-white Burns Hill neighborhood, Mingo said he didn’t recall any unpleasant interactions with his white neighbors. Trust between neighbors was high enough that when Mingo’s father took the family to South Carolina on weekends, they would leave their house unlocked. Mingo noted with amazement that his family’s friendly relations with their white neighbors coincided with one of the most racially turbulent periods of High Point’s history.
Yet, gradually at first and then with quickening speed, the neighborhood flipped from all white to virtually all black as white residents took advantage of better housing opportunities. When asked why he thought the white residents moved out, Mingo responded by stating the obvious, with an evident sense of personal hurt: “Because blacks moved in.”
Richard Rothstein, a researcher at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, argues that using descriptive terms instead of euphemisms is an important part of being honest about the history of race and poverty in the United States.
“One of the ways in which we forget our history is by sanitizing our language and pretending that these problems don’t exist,” he told Terry Gross, the host of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” in September 2015. “We have always recognized that these were ‘ghettos.’ A ghetto is, as I define it, a neighborhood which is homogenous and from which there are serious barriers to exit. That’s the technical definition of a ghetto.”
Rothstein argues that the federal government, together with state and local governments, created ghettos beginning in the 1930s through policies that discouraged banks from providing home loans in integrated urban areas — a practice known as “redlining” — while subsidizing housing development for suburban communities that were restricted to whites. Rothstein charted the evolution of segregation in the St. Louis metro area — a pattern that he says was replicated across the nation — in an October 2014 article entitled “The Making of Ferguson: Public Policies at the Root of its Troubles” to explore the underlying social and economic problems that led to upheaval in the wake of the police killing of Michael Brown.
Beginning in 1934, Federal Housing Administration underwriting manuals “stated that ‘protection against some adverse influences is obtained by the proper zoning and deed restrictions that prevail in a neighborhood’ and elaborated that ‘the most important among the adverse influential factors are the ingress of undesirable racial or nationality groups,’” Rothstein wrote.
“The FHA not only insured individual mortgages of white homeowners,” Rothstein continued. “Perhaps even more importantly, it effectively financed the construction of entire segregated subdivisions by making advanced commitments to builders who met FHA construction standards for materials used, lot size, setback from the street, and location in a properly zoned neighborhood that prohibited industry or commercial development threatening home values. Aware that the Supreme Court had prohibited explicit racial zoning the FHA took the position that the presence of African Americans in nearby neighborhoods was nonetheless a consideration that could threaten FHA insurability and that racial exclusion in the insured subdivision itself could be accomplished if deeds in the subdivision included mutually obligatory clauses prohibiting African Americans from residence.”
High Point and other industrial Piedmont cities developed somewhat differently than did Midwestern and Northern cities that absorbed black migrants fleeing Jim Crow conditions in the South. Incorporated in 1859, High Point’s rapidly developing furniture and textile industries attracted black migrants from the North Carolina countryside and from South Carolina, along with white workers from the Appalachian foothills in the late 19th Century. In the pre-auto age, mill owners typically built housing for their employees so they could walk to work.
An oral history completed by the UNCG Community Outreach Partnership Center in 2004 suggests a checkerboard of racial coexistence in the area that now makes up the High Point ghetto, which is now predominantly African American, with Latino immigrants gradually replacing pockets of elderly white residents.
Thurmond Marley, a black resident of the Macedonia neighborhood, recalled that as a child he had to walk through the all-white Southside neighborhood to reach the Fairview School in the 1940s and ’50s.
“We used to have to be together because race relations wasn’t that good,” he said. “And if we got caught in the Southside coming back, we had to fight because these boundaries were off limits to black folks.”
The Macedonia community was bounded on the north by Clara Cox Homes, an all-white public housing community. Daniel Brooks Homes was built for black residents to the north of the present-day ghetto. The public housing community now lies in the path of High Point University’s southward expansion.
“The neighbors to our left and right were blacks, but the neighbors across the street from us in the front of us were white and two streets back behind us were whites and about two streets to our left were whites,” Yvonne Short, a former Macedonia resident recalled. “We were surrounded by white people. We were just like in a square. The blacks were like in a square because we were surrounded by the white neighborhood.”
As early as 1931, suburban developers catered to white High Point residents who wanted to move out of the urban core. While the Oak Hill Forest subdivision predated federal policies that explicitly favored all-white housing developments, a newspaper advertisement spelled out the appeal for exclusivity, along with affordability, that gave shape to the residential segregation emerging across the country.
Headlined “The cleanest and the fairest,” the advertisement urged prospective homeowners to “come and see for yourself why Oak Hill Forest is today the outstanding residential park in High Point — for the family who love and appreciate fine old shade trees, expert landscape architecture, restrictions, city conveniences, schools and stores near but not too near, but for various reasons do not care to spend $1,000, $1,500 or $3,000 for a home site.”
Rothstein writes that federal housing policies throughout most of the 20th Century made housing more expensive for black people in the ghetto and prevented them from building wealth.
“With FHA mortgages mostly unavailable, families bought homes with mortgages having very short repayments periods, or with contracts that permitted no accumulation of equity,” Rothstein wrote. “Late installment payments could trigger repossession. To make the higher rent or contract payments, black families took in boarders, or subdivided and sublet their homes or apartments, exacerbating the overcrowding. With higher housing costs, African Americans with good jobs were less able to save than were whites with similar incomes — reduced savings made leaving the ghetto for better surroundings more difficult.”
Historic barriers for black families pursuing homeownership played out in High Point, where Cam Cridlebaugh Sr. started a savings and loan to serve the needs of African Americans who would have otherwise been shut out of the market. Atlantic Realty & Property Management was founded in 1922 as a savings and loan, but began providing property management services during the Depression. Eventually, the savings and loan business was sold off and was later acquired by BB&T.
“My grandfather used to give home loans to minority families that could not get loans through other means,” said Cam Cridlebaugh III, who is white.
White people started moving out of Clara Cox Homes in the mid-1960s, said Yvonne Short, adding that many black people also left in starting in the early ’70s. By the ’80s, residents complained that the public housing community had become infested with drugs.
“Well, these folks moved out and moved further because the courts had really spoke about integration and made it a reality within these communities and a lot of these folks didn’t like that and they left,” Thurmond Marley added. “Left the project and the surrounding area.”
Rothstein argues that the federal government bears responsibility for the white flight that gathered force in the 1960s because of decades of policies that undermined black homeownership.
“Whites observed the black ghetto and concluded that slum conditions were characteristic of black families, not a result of housing discrimination,” Rothstein wrote. “This conclusion reinforced whites’ resistance to racial integration, lest black residents bring slum conditions to white communities. Thus… government policy bears some responsibility for creating conditions that supported the racial stereotypes fueling such flight.”
In an interview with Triad City Beat, Rothstein added that another reason whites left the ghetto is simply because they could.
“The whites left because the federal government was creating white-only suburbs for them to leave to,” he said. “Whites, when they moved to these white-only subdivisions, their monthly mortgage payments were less than the rent they were paying in public housing projects.”
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Despite decades of redlining, deindustrialization and disinvestment, many residents speak positively of the neighborhoods in the High Point ghetto.
“I like the neighborhood; it ain’t no worse than any other neighborhood,” said Sherman Marshall, a 74-year-old Burns Hill resident who has lived in the neighborhood since the mid-1960s and worked for Carolina Springs and Haywood Rolling Panel. He first rented a house on Furlough Avenue, and then moved to his current residence on RC Baldwin Avenue in 1984. At the time, the neighborhood was plagued by break-ins.
“It changed a whole lot,” Marshall said. “Right around here it ain’t been as many break-ins. The police stay busy.”
Dorothy Darr, executive director of the Southwest Renewal Foundation and a resident of the West High Street Historic District, emphasized a sense of pride in the area’s manufacturing legacy.
“It is historic housing stock,” she said. “It was mostly neighborhoods that were associated with the manufacturing industry of furniture and hosiery. The West High Street area was people who owned the mills. The other areas were largely made up of residents who worked in the factories or the mills, some of them craftsmen, some of them just working in the hosiery or cotton and then yarn, as they did at Highland [Cotton Mill].
“The people that I’ve met in these neighborhoods — there’s almost no crime — they’re just really decent, nice people who have a lot honor and integrity,” Darr added. “We do have a large proportion of renters in the Southwest — 70 to 30 renters to owners — and we would like to see more ownership in the area, some restoration, infill, all of that is necessary.”
While perception is almost as important as reality when it comes to public safety and neighborhood stability, the stats cut against Darr’s claim: The UNCG market segmentation highlighted one of the Census block groups in the southwest area for a violent crime rate of 9.58 calls per 1,000 residents.
The southwest quadrant in particular shows signs of reinvestment. Most notably, the Belgian furniture maker BuzziSpace took over the historic Pickett Cotton Mill in 2014. And in late 2012, part of the old Myrtle Desk company was jointly purchased by a company that contracts furniture manufacturing in China and an import business that specializes in South African wine.
Yet for all of its promise, 43 percent of the residents of the southwest quadrant fall below the federal poverty level, and in one Census block group the figure is as high as 87 percent. The UNCG researchers found that median household incomes in the two poorest census tracts in the southwest charted at $9,006 and $15,806 respectively. They found generally high levels substandard housing and vacant units throughout the southwest.
Stephen Sills, the lead researcher of the UNCG study and director of the Center for Housing and Community Studies, likens rental housing to an extractive resource industry, even going so far as to compare it to the “mountain-top removal” method of coal mining where the tops of mountains in Appalachia are literally blown off.
Even though the vast majority of landlords in the High Point ghetto live nearby, Sills said, “You’re still extracting wealth from one side of town to the other, largely from low-income black people to high-income whites. I still see this as a social justice issue. If I’m a landlord, I’ve bought low-income housing because it’s a good investment and I can still extract the dollars from rent payments but I’m not going to invest very much as long as there’s a tax advantage. They get to write off the wear and tear as it’s rented. As soon as it reaches the highest level of depreciation, there’s incentive to sell. Then the next owner comes in and the cycles repeats. They buy the house and put lipstick on it — paint it, fix the windows, do some cosmetic things so they can rent it out.”
As the owner of Atlantic Realty & Property Management, Cridlebaugh’s company manages about 1,200 residential properties around High Point. The vast majority of the monthly rents fall between $400 and $600, what Cridlebaugh calls “a recession-proof range” because “it doesn’t matter if you’re working a low-income job; you still need housing.” Cridlebaugh and his wife, Nicole, also own 18 rental properties of their own through Fennario Properties LLC.
A longtime Grateful Dead fan with framed photographs of Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir on his office wall, Cridlebaugh named his real estate company after a fictitious locale that crops up in at least two songs by Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. “Fennario” is referenced in the traditional folk song “Peggy-O” that entered the band’s repertoire in the late ’70s, but also in the Hunter-penned “Dire Wolf” from the 1970 album Workingman’s Dead: “In the backwash of Fennario, the black and bloody mire/ The Dire Wolf collects his dues, while the boys sing ’round the fire.”
“I don’t work with slumlords,” Cridlebaugh said. “I’ve fired plenty of clients who don’t keep up their properties. My job is to make money for my clients. My job as a landowner is to make money for Fennario Properties. I don’t make money if my houses are vacant.”
Cridlebaugh’s days are filled with working through a constant stream of code violation letters from the city and repair requests from tenants. He takes pride in responding quickly.
“I have an army of contractors that work for me that can take care of everything from a dripping kitchen faucet to removing a dead body,” he said.
From Cridlebaugh’s perspective, the challenges in the ghetto include both homeowners who simply find themselves unable to afford the cost of upkeep to people in the neighborhood who commit property crimes.
“There’s a house where we recently put new carpeting throughout the house,” he said. “The next weekend all the windows were broken out. They had made a campfire in the living room. The owner of it told us to board it up, put Roundup on the yard, and put it up for sale.”
Making a property management business works revolves around a couple fundamentals, Cridlebaugh said.
“It’s by getting qualified tenants in the house,” he said. “Collections, collections, collections. And keeping maintenance costs as low as I can. People wouldn’t come to me if I didn’t turn a profit for them. On the other side, people wouldn’t come to me if I didn’t provide a good house, provide fair housing and an affordable rent.”
Since the city engaged the UNCG Center for Housing and Community Studies to conduct the market segmentation study, the city has increased its code inspection staff from one full-time inspector to six.
“We’re up to full speed now,” said Michael McNair, the city’s director of community development and housing. “We’ve got a regular diet of demolitions and repair orders.”
Jerry Mingo, who lives in Burns Hill and operates the nonprofit sewing factory on East Green Drive, said the city’s stepped-up efforts have produced results.
“You can tell with a lot of the lots being cut that weren’t being cut before,” he said. “And with some of the houses that were in disrepair being torn down you can see the difference.”
Also notable in the city’s efforts to address housing conditions in the ghetto is a partnership with the national nonprofit Operation Inasmuch. Leveraging volunteer labor from churches, the city is targeting a handful of houses on a single block for repairs. The first project took place in the Southside neighborhood in May 2016, followed by the east-central area in November. The third project will take place in Highland Mills in May.
“The idea is that if you target four or five houses on a block for light rehab — it might be painting — it has a spill-over effect,” Sills said. “Neighbors might be inspired to improve their houses. It makes people think about the status of the neighborhood. The program targets elderly homeowners who might have paid off their mortgages, but they have fixed incomes so they can’t always afford to make repairs.”
The completion of the market segmentation study has raised a nettlesome but ever present question in High Point — whether the city should focus resources on the areas of greatest need or strategically target distressed areas with stronger assets that are likely to yield a higher return on investment.
The market segmentation study bluntly recommends “wholesale redevelopment” for the ghetto. Such an undertaking would require millions of dollars in federal funding, Sills said, adding that the $500,000 budgeted by the city this year for blight removal and redevelopment would barely make a dent.
“We recommend focusing on the constrained markets,” Sills said. “They bottomed out in 2009 at the beginning of the recession. They’re selling, but very slowly. The city can turn that around by providing low-interest loans to prospective homeowners. Things like credit counseling would help. Trainings for new homeowners: When you’re accustomed to renting, you might not know about cleaning out the hair trap under the sink so you can save money instead of hiring a plumber. The city could strategically seize properties with delinquent taxes and then find new owners. That’s a way to bring money back in paid taxes.”
The recent buildout of the Park Terrace Apartments, a public housing community that received an award for excellence in affordable housing from the NC Housing Finance Agency in 2013, would seem to be a bright spot in the High Point ghetto. The apartments, which replaced Clara Cox Homes, lie a block south of the East Green Drive shopping center where Jerry Mingo operates his nonprofit garment factory. But Sills cautioned against siting affordable housing in areas that lack resources.
“The opportunity structures aren’t there,” he said. “Where are these kids going to go to school? You’ve got a concentration of poverty there. What are the grocery stores like? You’ve got a food desert. A Family Dollar counts as a food store. That, in my mind, does not count as a healthy food store.”
Instead, Sills said the city should look for opportunities to build affordable housing in more stable housing markets around Emerywood that would provide residents with access to public transportation, shopping and employment. As a tradeoff, the city could look for ways to incentivize higher-income, mostly younger people to move into the urban core to diversify incomes and stimulate demand for retail.
In previous conversations, Michael McNair, the city’s community development and housing director, has emphasized a redevelopment strategy in line with Sills’ recommendation, but he said over time he’s come to believe that the city can’t afford to neglect the areas of greatest need.
“What we’ve come to recognize — we still have to be smart — is that red doesn’t mean don’t go in there; it means don’t go in there without a plan,” he said. “This is not a wasteland.
“Our council’s serious about this, our manager’s serious about this,” McNair added. “They’re serious about addressing blight in the core.”
The High Point ghetto is a place with almost 5,000 residents that happens to include City Hall, an Amtrak station and cluster of showrooms that serve as a hub for the largest home furnishings market in North America. Armed with a new study and a granular view of conditions in the ghetto, city leaders face a reckoning about whether to make a concerted effort to address urban poverty and blight or to continue on the same course as in the past 50 years.
As a person who made a good livelihood as production supervisor, Mingo knows he could have moved away, but he said he likes Burns Hill, and his neighbors.
He recalled a time when his house was broken into and a police officer asked him why he didn’t move.
“Why?” Mingo replied. “I shouldn’t have to. Your job is to protect and serve.”
He knows the value he places in his community is not reciprocated by its real-estate values.
“I know if I decided to sell my property tomorrow I couldn’t find a buyer,” he said. “Or, if I did, it would become a rental property. If I die tomorrow, that’s it.”
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What we learned
• 80 percent of rental properties in the High Point ghetto are owned by people who live within a 25-mile radius of the properties — a span that encompasses Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Lexington, Thomasville, Trinity and Asheboro.
• Almost half of rental properties are owned by people who live in High Point.
• Landlords who live in the 27262 ZIP code, which includes the affluent neighborhood of Emerywood, own the largest share of rental properties (130). The second largest share of landlords (116) live in 27260, the ZIP code that includes the ghetto itself. The third largest share live in 27265, which covers the prosperous north end of High Point.
• 81 percent of the residents of the ghetto are African American, but African Americans own only 35 percent of the housing stock in the ghetto.
• Rental housing in the High Point ghetto is distributed across a relatively large number of owners: The Hughes family of Jamestown, which owns the largest number of properties (29), controls only 3.6 percent of the single-family homes and duplexes in the ghetto. Thirty-five families control almost a third of the rental properties. The remainder is controlled by individuals and companies that own one to three properties.
The High Point ghetto, by the numbers
• Acreage: 1,096
• Total valuation: $654 million
• Total valuation of all residential properties: $61.9 million
• Total valuation of all industrial properties: $87.1 million
• Total valuation of all retail (including furniture showrooms) properties: $302.5 million
• Total valuation of all government-owned properties, churches and other non-taxed institutional properties: $105.9 million
• Total value of all office and commercial properties: $73.8 million
• Local tax revenue generated from showrooms and other retail properties: $1.9 million
• Percentage of land that remains undeveloped: 21.9 percent
• Total acreage available for redevelopment: 240
• Factor by which developed property exceeds the value of unimproved acreage: 4:1
• Local tax revenue lost annually from underutilization of undeveloped land: $742,560
• Factor by which the matriarch of the Schwarz family’s home exceeds the average value of the family’s High Point rental properties: 115:1
11 largest landlords by number of properties
1. Hughes family, Jamestown — 29
2. Donald P. Vileno, Lexington — 13
3. Schwarz family, Asheboro — 15
4. Davis family, Asheboro — 12
5. William B. Reid & Rosaline Reid, Henrico — 11
6. Henry Lee Briles & Ruth R. Briles, Jamestown — 10
7. City of High Point — 10
8. Cridlebaugh family, High Point — 10
9. Robert L. Bryant, High Point — 10
10. James M. Hughes & Lori S. Hughes, Denton — 10
11. Del Ray Wilson & Rebecca A. Wilson, High Point — 10
The Hughes family, which controls 29 rental properties in the ghetto, operates a rental agency on West Green Drive in High Point, but the family members live in Jamestown, according to corporate records.
The family’s holdings include properties owned by Hughes Family LLC, Carolyn W. Hughes, Nancy Hughes Bailey, Jennie Leigh Hughes and Charles Hughes III.
The average valuation for single-family homes owned by the family is $25,711 — 22.7 percent below the average value of single-family homes in the area.
After a house at 1408 W. Green Drive owned by Nancy Hughes Bailey was severely damaged by fire, the city ordered extensive repairs, including the replacement of fire-damaged exterior walls in June 2016. The house was torn down after the city issued an order for repair or demolition in October.
The city summoned Jennie Leigh Hughes for a hearing to answer a complaint about substandard housing at a property at 1227 Dorris Ave. in September. Among numerous violations cited, inspector Billy Caudle ordered the landlord to replace broken windows and replace deteriorated siding on the house. After Hughes failed to appear for the Sept. 28 hearing, the city ordered her to repair or demolish the house. City council must sign off on the order before the city can proceed with demolition.
Representatives of the family could not be reached for this story. A woman who answered the phone at rental agency in High Point responded to an inquiry about the family’s rental properties by saying, “Not interested” and promptly hung up the phone.
The Schwarz family’s holdings in the High Point ghetto include nine properties owned by Schwarz Properties LLC, a company owned by Todd Schwarz; three properties owned by SHP Capital LLC, also held by Schwarz; one property owned by Southeastern Residential Properties, again held by Schwarz; and three properties owned by Elly’s Place LLC, a company owned by Vivian Schwarz, the family matriarch.
The average property valuation of the family’s rental properties is $20,815 — 37.4 percent below the average value of in the area.
In 2012, the High Point City Council ordered the demolition of the Meredith Street Apartments, a six-building complex with 24 units owned by Schwarz Properties in the east-central area. Among the complaints about the complex were broken windowpanes, missing plumbing and electrical fixtures and holes in interior walls. The apartments were finally torn down in early 2015.
Properties owned by members of the Schwarz family have continued to rack up violations.
The city opened a public nuisance case for a property owned by Vivian Schwarz at 1310 Ragan Ave. in late July 2016, with an inspector reporting that the front door was kicked in. The next month, the city opened a substandard housing case, citing the property for broken windows, damaged interior walls, overgrown vegetation and broken gutters, among other violations. The city issued an order to repair or demolish in early December.
On Nov. 14, the city opened a substandard housing case on the property at 1411 Pershing St., which is owned by Schwarz’s Southeastern Residential Properties. Records show that the city had paid a contractor $100 in late August to board up a window on the house. In November, the city placed a lien against the property in an effort to get reimbursement for the expense. At a Dec. 1 hearing the city found the property unfit for human habitation.
Three other properties owned by companies held by Todd Schwarz have been cited in public nuisance cases for — among other violations — overgrown vegetation, trash piles and unsecured dwellings, but the city closed the cases after the landlord corrected the problems.
Asheboro-based Schwarz Properties boast of being “one of the largest real-estate management companies in the Mid-Atlantic region” on the company website, with more than 500 residential, industrial and commercial locations under its management. Todd Schwarz is the company’s president.
Far from lacking funds to maintain their properties, the Schwarz family appears to have built significant wealth from their real estate dealings: Vivian Schwarz’s home in Asheboro is valued at $2.4 million.
Todd Schwarz did not respond to repeated phone messages for this story.
The research for “Who owns the ghetto in High Point?” is built from a draft copy of a report prepared by the UNCG Center for Housing & Community Studies for the city of High Point entitled “Market Segmentation & Targeted Revitalization: High Point Core City,” which identified six centrally-located Census block groups as “extremely weak” housing markets, with the city’s highest concentrations of poverty. The UNCG report was finalized in September 2016.
Beginning in April 2016, Triad City Beat undertook a nine-month research project to answer the question articulated in the headline: Who owns the ghetto?
With the UNCG map as a reference, the author used Guilford County tax records to manually log 2,556 properties in the six census block groups into a spreadsheet. The research included all types of properties, including industrial, retail, institutional and city-owned, but focused on 1,555 zoned for housing, mostly designated as residential but also a smaller cohort of apartments, condos and duplexes. Properties with no appraised building value were presumed to be empty lots and were coded “unimproved.” Residential properties where the owner’s mailing address matched the location address were coded as “owner-occupied,” while properties that listed a separate owner’s mailing address were coded as “rental.”
Property ownership necessarily changes with sales, making the research subject a moving target. For purposes of expediency, the project was designed as a modified point-in-time count: While the properties were logged from April 7 through Oct. 11, 2016, a second review of the 2,556 properties from Oct. 14 to Oct. 25 captured any changes of ownership that took place as the data was being compiled.
In cases where rental properties were owned by a limited liability company or other business, the author used the North Carolina Secretary of State website to pull annual reports and identify the actual owners.
As an additional layer of research, the author used North Carolina voter registration records to identify the race and ethnicity of residential property owners. The author was able to determine the race or ethnicity of 70.3 percent of residential property owners. The most significant limitation to this method is that many property owners are not registered to vote, including some who may not be eligible because they are not citizens. The review was also limited to property owners who live in the state of North Carolina, which comprise 92.9 percent of the sample, as many states do not make voter registration information public. In consideration of anecdotal reports that the North Carolina Board of Elections does not always accurately record the ethnicity of Latino voters, this study uses Spanish surnames as a proxy for Latino ethnicity.
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