Johannes Ullrich and Hailing Zhong have taken on the task of reviving this tiny home community in Springfield. We sat down with Hailing to talk about the project:
How did you go about starting this project? What made this an attractive investment for you?
Dancy Terrace and its history have always been a fascinating part of the story of historic Springfield. It has become an investment project for consideration since 2011 when our company Euclidian Inc purchased an investment house on Hubbard st. Hubbard st had several neglected houses and houses harbor petty criminals. It is a great headache. Petty criminals frequented the 24 houses that form Dancy Terrace. Trash and left over fast food can be seen everywhere. It was a truly disturbing view when standing on the porch of my house on Hubbard st. The dire condition is just too hard to stomach.
I realized that one of the problems with Dancy Terrace is the ownership. Since the breaking down of Dancy Ter LLC in 2007, the individual bungalows have become properties of many different owners. Some of the owners do not live in Jacksonville or even Florida. So my original intention was only to acquire individual properties to aggregate them into one owner, clean and secure the properties. Just like many people in historic Springfield, we are cleaning the trash because we are here and because no one else would clean it. I did not expect to make big profit, by entering the project at the bottom of the market, I know it is financially feasible.
The project officially started in 2012 my company Euclidian Inc purchased 5 bungalows on tax deed auction. Since then, we have kept on acquiring remaining bungalows by bidding on tax deed auction and purchasing from various owners. We have been cleaning the area, cutting the grass, securing the individual bungalows, repeatedly placing “no trespassing” signs and installed over a dozen security cameras. When the market started to recover in 2015, we started the rehabilitation and formed Save Dancy LLC.
How many of the lots do you presently control?
Right now, Save Dancy LLC owns 23 of the 24 bungalows
Can you talk a bit about your plans for the development?
The plan is simple and straightforward: rehab one bungalow, find a good tenant to rent the rehabbed bungalow, move onto next one, repeat until all 23 bungalows are rehabbed and landscaped. Because of the obvious disaster resulted from the houses owned by different owners, none of the bungalow will be sold as individual property until the entire project finishes. One question is that what constitutes “finish”. It is obvious to the benefit of the community to finish rehab all 24 properties. However, it is unrealistic to promise things that one does not own. Since the 23 units owned by Save Dancey LLC forms a continuous piece of land, the condition and ownership of 1902 Redell St will not prevent the completion the project.
What are your plans for the common space in the middle of the project?
One of the misconceptions is that the area between the two rows of the houses is “common Place”. It is not. Each bungalow sits on its own individually numbered real estate plot. The survey shows there is no common owned or city owned space between the two bungalows facing each other. The modern life style requires delivery vehicles to access each house to delivery furniture, appliances and sometimes groceries. The practical need for fire truck to access these wood structures and ambulance to reach residence demands some hard surface that can support emergency vehicle and no blocking structure. The size and format of such hard surface are still undecided. Each house will have its own small green area. The choice of plant should be leave to the owner or resident. There is often question about parking. Many houses in historic Springfield has no off-street parking. Therefore, parking is not a high priority consideration of the rehab project but it will be considered.
Do you have an estimated timeline as to when you expect to have the project complete?
There is no set time line on the finishing of the project. Just like all historic rehabilitations, each rehab is a unique challenge. From what I can see on the speed of the first two bungalows, I do expect each project will be finished faster than the previous one. The completion of the project is also hindered by the city fines and liens accumulated from previous owners and the availability of the money to rehab. Without investors, I can rehab at least 2 or 3 but no more than 5 each year. I have invited investors to visit the property but it is difficult to find people who understand and respect the historic significance of the project and have the financial ability to weather the risk associated with rehabbing historic properties.
Anything you want to add?
The fines and liens from the city definitely have deterred many would be investors. Such fines and liens not only makes the rehab more expensive, it shows the city government’s animosity towards rehabilitation or at least lacking of interest to the rehabilitation of the neighborhood. It is makes investors feel unwelcomed. On the appearance, if an historic property does not get rehabbed, the accumulated fines and liens can sit on the city books forever as account receivable and added to the city’s virtual wealth. The fact is that such account receivable will never be received. So why not forgo the never receivable and actually collect current income in the form of property tax of the rehabbed property and sells tax from the goods consumed by the people who resides there?
Money aside, historic property is the evidence and memorabilia of human civilization, the treasure of all human kind. We can rebuild a new house in same style, we can photograph the properties in high resolution but once the original is lost, it is lost forever. We are not owners of these historic properties; we are the renter and temporary guardian. As a renter, it is only normal for us to protect it in usage and hand it to the next tenant in the same or better condition. As guardian, we are to defend it against the self-deluding indifference of bureaucracy.
I have lost count how many times I feel I am fighting a losing battle and wanting to wash my hands and move to a concrete new construction condo on the beach. But what is human civilization if it is not its history? If I have never come to live in Historic Springfield, maybe I would have invested my time and money elsewhere, probably with better return. Now I live here and know this place, I feel the responsibly to preserve what I can. Maybe inevitably all history will be lost in time, but here and now, I can preserve one house at a time.
Next: The significance of bungalow courts and affordable, workforce housing.