RICHMOND (KPIX) — With the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, many wonder why abandoned buildings aren’t being used to house people. The city of Richmond is now doing just that.

Mitzi Perez-Caro grew up in Richmond. She used to find the abandoned house down the block from her childhood home a bit creepy.

“I guess there were looters who stayed here and so the home eventually burned down and it seemed really eerie,” she said.

Today, it is fully renovated and Perez-Caro and her husband are living there as first-time homeowners.

“A lot of my neighbors have talked to me about how happy they are to see that it’s filled with young people that are from this area,” she said.

Perez-Caro is a teacher. Her husband is a communications and security specialist with the U.S. Army. She never thought she’d be able to afford a home in her hometown.

“I think that that’s really amazing to see that, that people like me can own a home here,” Perez-Caro said.

Richmond currently has 240 boarded-up houses — often the result of homeowners who die before arranging to pass on their properties. Investors don’t want to buy these homes because the environmental cleanup costs and property taxes make them difficult to sell at a profit.

That’s where Jim Becker and the Richmond Community Foundation come in.

“We’ve created this strategy to reclaim these boarded-up, abandoned homes that really no one else wants,” Jim Becker said.

Becker is the president and CEO of the nonprofit that helps repurpose these homes. They’ve turned 20 abandoned, single-family homes into affordable housing for families like Perez-Caro’s.

RCF received grant money from the Environmental Protection Agency and social impact bonds from the local Mechanics Bank to fund cleanup and construction. They sell the homes to first-time homebuyers at below market rate.

“Typically, our program is serving people who are typically at 30% to 50% of the area median income and our median income in this area is like $89,000,” Becker said.

“When you’re trying to provide affordable housing, you have to use every tool you have and this is a very, very unique and very successful tool,” Richmond mayor Tom Butt said.

It’s also sustainable. The families pay down the bond debt allowing Richmond to finance the next project.

“They rebuild these properties and they sell them too, they sell them as affordable housing and then they cycle the money back into the program to do another one,” Butt said.

Before she found this program, Perez-Caro was considering moving away from the region because it’s so expensive but this ongoing revival of Richmond means she and her husband can stay.

“It’s my home, it’s always been my home and I feel so strongly tied to the community, like I want to make sure that my students and the people around me get the same opportunities that I was given,” Perez-Caro said.

The concept is spreading. Jim Becker says he’s talking with teams in Sacramento, Antioch and Pittsburg about trying something like this in each of those cities.

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