Residents fear land sale could displace historic Indianapolis neighborhood

The 86-year-old John Brooks was part of an innovative housing program that was known as "self-help housing," or sweat equity.
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Residents of an old neighborhood located on the edge of downtown are worried a part their history could be erased.

It has to do with several of the "Flanner House homes," specifically the ones close to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and 16th Streets.

The city is selling 2.44 acres of land it owns at that intersection and nearby residents are worried about what could be built there. They fear a large-scale grocery could displace them.

As longtime homeowner John Brooks said, "We came over here in 1956 and worked the whole year, putting these houses together, all of them. We couldn't go nowhere else."

The 86-year-old Brooks was part of an innovative housing program that was known as "self-help housing," or sweat equity. It was geared toward African-Americans, who had a tough time getting a traditional mortgage.

By helping to build their house and their neighbors' homes, they qualified for a mortgage without the down payment.

Wendy Cooper is the economic development manager for Flanner House.

"There wasn't any other plan that came near this in the fifties. This project was instrumental in providing financial stability for a lot of African-American families who couldn't find it any other way," she said.

As Brooks recalled, "This the only place they wanted us, so we came over here and stayed over here and I think we have a right to stay here now."

But like several of the his neighbors, he's wary about what's proposed for the nearby lot. A developer that's offered to pay $600,000 for the city property has proposed building a mixed use project there. It's one rumored to include a Meijer store, and word is it could require buying up to 35 of the area's 181 Flanner homes.

Cooper sees why developers would consider the location desirable. It's close to downtown and close to the interstate. She said the area could also use a grocery or other retail, but she also understands the concerns of residents.

The property "does have tremendous opportunity for developers," she said, "but I think the historic integrity of the neighborhood is important to maintain, too."

Dolores and Phillip Thomas are "very concerned about that."

They too built their home in the 1950s, raising their three children there. Like Brooks, they want to stay put, "because we worked hard to be here. we stayed here and we liked it," Dolores said.

Phillip added, "Most of the homes have been paid for and we don't want to be uprooted and move somewhere else."

While the city wants to see the land developed and get it back on the tax rolls, a spokesman said it won't be involved in acquiring any land. That's up to developers.

In fact, Opus Development has until the end of the year to get residents on board and acquire the land they need, or the deal is off. Like others, John Brooks could be a tough sell.

"We had a good neighborhood here," he said. "I liked it here and I still like it here."

Eyewitness News called Opus Development for comment, but had yet to hear back as of 5:00 pm Thursday.