Rosa Salter Rodriguez (Journal Gazette) —The first step in what organizers hope will become a revitalized neighborhood in southeast Fort Wayne took place Friday morning on a vacant lot along East Pettit Avenue.

At a news conference, Fort Wayne’s Bridge of Grace Ministries and Habitat for Humanity chapter unveiled plans for a new, three-bedroom home they say will be the first of 10 built on the southeast side in the next year.

The homes in the Mount Vernon Park, Pettit/Rudisill and Renaissance Pointe neighborhoods are designed to be affordable for Habitat clients, said Andrew Gritzmaker, Habitat’s chief executive officer.

“We wanted a radically different home style, … that would be attractive for the neighborhood,” he said after the event.

On an easel next to Gritzmaker was an architect’s rendering of a one-story home with a stepped-back facade. The rendering was prepared by MSKTD and Associates, Fort Wayne.

About 70 people attended the news conference. Many were residents who participated in a prayer walk to the site with Bridge of Grace’s CEO, Javier Mondragon, from nearby Many Nations Church of the Nazarene, where Mondragon is pastor.

Bridge of Grace has been buying and rehabilitating houses on the southeast side for about two years, Mondragon said. Eight are finished, with five resold and three housing ministry staff, he said.

“We made a little profit, and reinvested so we can buy more homes,” Mondragon said. The homes have been found by combing the neighborhood for “For Sale” signs and poring through notices of county tax sales, he said.

The East Pettit lot was bought for $300, Gritzmaker told The Journal Gazette. Most of the other needed lots already have been acquired, he said.

The neighborhood project is an added, new direction for the nonprofit agency, Gritzmaker said.

Habitat for Humanity for several years has been building new homes in Fuller’s Landing, a suburban-style development at 4308 Cook Road, west of Huguenard Road.

The agency still owns property in that development, but the land lacks streets and other infrastructure that would cost $2 million to develop, Gritzmaker said. So the agency now plans to build on sites with water and sewer in place, such as in southeast Fort Wayne’s urban neighborhoods, he said.

The 1,100-square-foot home on Pettit will have three bedrooms and one bath. It will not have a garage, Gritzmaker said, to keep the price down.

The home’s value will be $77,800, he said. Gritzmaker said that a challenge for the agency has been to build a home that will appraise for what it cost to build.

Construction will start Sept. 12. The hope is to have it complete before Christmas, Gritzmaker said.

Mondragon said one Bridge of Grace goal is reducing the percentage of rental homes in the neighborhood, which stands at 66%. He said 30 percent is considered a healthy neighborhood percentage.

Because transitioning people to home ownership is a specialty of Habitat, he said, Bridge of Grace decided to partner with the organization.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Mondragon, who has been doing ministry in the neighborhood for 12 years.

To obtain a home, Habitat families who meet guidelines complete up to 400 hours of sweat equity building another family’s house, do volunteer work for the organization and attend home-ownership classes. The agency has built or rehabbed 241 homes in the greater Fort Wayne area since 1986.