Liberty Street residence once thought uninhabitable is now called home by former Prince George resident

PETERSBURG – The property nicknamed “Ugly House” at 135 Liberty St. is no longer a dilapidated pile of rotting wood and housing code violations after being painstakingly restored and sold for $150,000. A conglomeration of public and private organizations led by Local Initiatives Support Corp. worked to bring history back to life.

The house sits among several abandoned houses, sagging stoops, slumped gutters and faded paint. It now glows with a cool green exterior and an interior that retained its historic hardwood and fireplaces in the living room and upstairs bedrooms.

“We really wanted to preserve this house because it feels like Petersburg,” said Marion Cake, director of real estate development for project:HOMES, the company which organized construction. “These rooms are big, the ceilings are high, the floorplan is unique. This is not a Richmond house, this is a Petersburg house, and we’re glad to have brought it back.”

The home’s new owner, Saladen Williams, a resident of Prince George, is expecting to move his fiancé and two daughters down from New Jersey to make a life in the house.

“I just feel so blessed, and I thank God. I just feel happy,” Williams said after receiving the key to the house from Petersburg Mayor Samuel Parham Thursday morning.

When Williams was browsing for homes in Petersburg, a co-worker recommended looking at the ugly house. Williams drove past it one day after his shift, circled around the back and immediately called the realtor to say he wanted to buy it without even seeing the inside.

Now, he has closed on the first of numerous renovations scheduled for Petersburg’s downtown neighborhoods.

LISC was made aware that Petersburg’s historic homes were under threat after a 2014 study by Preservation Virginia. That study revealed that the Poplar Lawn and Foley’s Quarter neighborhoods had lost 10 percent of their historic homes in a decade.

“It became urgent if we were going to save this community,” said Candice Street, LISC executive director.

LISC immediately started looking for banks to provide loans to start revitalizing properties in those neighborhoods. They found that banks were unwilling to lend for projects in neighborhoods with such low market values.

“That’s when we came up with this plan that might take longer, but will eventually get the job done,” Street said.

Without bank funding, LISC enlisted help from the city, the Cameron Foundation and other groups like First Baptist Church. The Cameron Foundation provided grants of approximately $202,000 to finish the Ugly House’s makeover.

The ultimate goal for the larger project is the protection and preservation of Petersburg’s historic homes.

“That’s an asset. People come to cities because there’s something unique, But you also have people that want to live in historic houses,” said Risha Stebbins, senior program officer and coordinator of communications at the Cameron Foundation.

With the Williams house finished, finished, the coalition is moving on to three other planned homes on Liberty Street, and one other project on Harrison Street. Other Liberty Street projects will work with current homeowners to improve their current homes so they can continue living in Petersburg.

“The plan isn’t to push out current residents, this idea of gentrification where the low-income homeowners are pushed out and they bring in other homeowners,” Stebbins said. “This part of the strategy is to help keep neighbors here.”

The city of Petersburg and Cameron Foundation have already committed $42,000 for an owner-occupied renovation on Liberty street with the Cameron Foundation approving a further $65,000 of its own funding for future owner-occupied rehab projects. LISC has pledged $80,000 for operating and capacity-building support for several new projects in the area.

Project:Homes says it ultimately picked the Ugly House as its first project because it had the least potential of every other house on the street. That meant that individuals were less likely to buy that house and renovate it for themselves or to resell. With the least desirable house on the block rehabilitated, people are more likely to come into the neighborhood for some of the more readily salvageable properties.

“I would say that we will have to do around five to six houses in this area for thing to get going,” said Cake.

The next scheduled rehab project is right next door, an old abandoned white house with a classic Southern porch and several historic features inside. That project is estimated to need about nine months of work before completion and has the potential for a $250,000 asking price when finished.

Sean Jones may be reached at 804-722-5172 or sjones@progress-index.com.


By Sean Jones