DASH for LaGrange formed in 2002 to address growing concerns of inadequate housing, primarily in the once thriving mill villages of LaGrange, Georgia. Founding of the non-profit 501-c3 corporation came on the heels of a joint report by the City of LaGrange, the Callaway Foundation and LaGrange College. The intensive report named safe, code-compliant, affordable housing, a priority issue. In this city of 25,000 residents and 11,000 units of housing almost 3,000 housing units were found to be structurally substandard, creating significant health and safety risks for their occupants. The numbers were shocking.
When Ricky Wolfe moved back to his native LaGrange after living elsewhere for 30 years, what he saw startled him: poverty housing in the idyllic hometown of his youth.
The drastic difference in his memories of the city’s mill villages versus what they had become by the early 21st century was dismaying. Studying the City/Callaway/LaGrange College Report, he learned of trends that compromised the integrity of area neighborhoods: elderly people on fixed incomes had lost the ability to maintain their homes; increased crime kept newcomers from moving in; and the city had become a community of renters with fewer than half its families owning their homes.
While the national average for homeownership in a city the size of LaGrange is 66 percent, only 46 percent of LaGrange’s heads of household were homeowners.
Authors of this report feared that, if left unchecked, these trends would find the city’s declining neighborhoods diminish into an impoverished inner-city.
In September 2002, Wolfe and other concerned citizens presented a business plan to the Callaway Foundation, a LaGrange-based philanthropic organization founded by Fuller E. Callaway. The Callaway Mills initially developed the numerous mill villages in LaGrange during the first half of the 20th Century. These are the same communities that had declined since the waning of the textile industry, the same neighborhoods DASH sought to restore.
In 2003 DASH began purchasing substandard properties owned by absentee landlords. With the City of LaGrange granting the nonprofit Redevelopment Authority status and working alongside it to improve infrastructure, DASH started rebuilding aging houses and selling them, often to first-time homeowners.
DASH channels all proceeds from home sales into a revolving fund to continue the cycle of rehabilitating and building more homes, providing homeownership educational services and developing community leadership.
Since beginning work in 2002, DASH has provided a variety of quality, affordable housing options by constructing or rehabilitating 194 single-family homes and developing 232 rental units through its housing and neighborhood revitalization programs. Through its homebuyer and financial fitness programs DASH has counseled more than 1,800 low-income clients resulting in successful, long-term homeowners and increased financial stability for families.