Community group "Twelve Blocks West" looks to revive neighborhood by renovating, replacing homes

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. - A coalition of community groups led by the Independence School District will continue its efforts to revive troubled district neighborhoods on Monday when it tears down two abandoned homes on Overton Avenue and begins the work of replacing them.

The group, which calls itself "Twelve Blocks West," consists of several nonprofit and faith-based organizations banding together to improve neighborhoods by giving people incentive to remain in them.

In the case of Shawn Willis and his family, that means conducting some $60,000 worth of renovations to his 1903 home free of charge. All he had to do was commit to staying put for another five years.

"We were talking about moving for awhile, and then when they decided to do this it was why move? It's a new house," Willis told 41 Action News on Friday.

Residents of two new homes that replaced a decrepit apartment building said they got deals on their down payments and promises of no property tax for their first decade of home ownership on Overton.

Across the street, one longtime resident, 97-year old Jude Christensen, who first moved to Independence, Mo., in 1931, said the group's effort has already dramatically improved the neighborhood in just the last few years.

"Oh my goodness. How has it changed?" he asked, laughing. "This has changed 500 percent since I moved over here."

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