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Knoxville Habitat for Humanity helps revitalize a historic neighborhood

In the Five Points neighborhood of Knoxville, Tenn., a revitalization is under way. Knoxville Habitat for Humanity and its partner families are a big part of the effort to bring a long-missed sense of homeownership and community pride back into the area.


Kelle Shultz celebrates the selection of Knoxville as the site of Habitat’s 200,000th house with HFHI CEO Paul Leonard and DIY Network President Bob Baskerville.



The Five Points neighborhood in Knoxville, Tenn., is a neglected area that Knoxville HFH hopes to help revitalize.

”Five Points used to be a blue-collar working neighborhood, where you owned your own home,” says Kelle Shultz, Executive Director of the Knoxville Habitat for Humanity.

Once a thriving locale that its population took pride in, the area succumbed over the years to increased crime, neglect and flight as residents left in search of more upscale living in West Knoxville. Its robust business climate once included grocery stores, barber shops and restaurants, with a wide range of services available to residents. There was even a radio station owned by legendary singer James Brown that had much to do with the soul of the neighborhood.

But in the last few decades crime has overtaken Five Points. Its economy is slack, and it suffers from general physical neglect. It is an area that many would rather drive around than deal with, but Knoxville Habitat sees its potential.

”We want families to become vested in the Five Points area, to buy into the dream of what it’s going to look like,” Shultz says.

One of these families is the Kouassi-Harper family, whose house is being built as part of Habitat’s 200,000th house celebration. Koffi Kouassi, his wife Tonya Harper and their children are the fulfillment of the hope expressed at Habitat for Humanity’s birth, that one day the organization would be able to house one million people. This honor is shared by Koffi’s and Tonya’s eight-year-old twins.

On a local level, the family represents that sector of the community that is willing to revitalize Five Points and areas like it from the inside out. The neighborhood refresh is a major goal for a city that wants to knock down some of the partitions that have grown up along racial and economic lines. Habitat Knoxville’s partner families and volunteers have a vested interest in helping make this effort a successful one.

”There’s a lot of ownership here,” Shultz says.

Such desire to take responsibility for a neglected neighborhood is an important step in the revitalization of Knoxville’s depressed communities. Koffi’s and Tonya’s home will fill an empty space in the neighborhood; their presence, and that of the other Habitat homeowners, will help refresh the local economy; their willingness to help revive the neighborhood by becoming a part of it is crucial to the city’s goal of reclaiming the area from the despair and neglect that have governed it for so many years.