Nora McDowell is a long-time, active Troy resident who recently volunteered with Habitat for her first time at our South Troy build site. She is passionate about Troy’s neighbors and neighborhoods. She’s served on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club for the Capital Area and lives in a rowhouse on Grand Street, which she’s been renovating since her son, now 17, was just two years old. She’s got a lot of love for the city, and wants to see it become a place for families of all kinds grow.
While volunteering at a team build with her office, Nora worked alongside construction staff and coworkers from different departments.
“I think it gives a lot of sense of empowerment and connection,” she said. “The involvement in building the houses, it’s also the connections made at that time that make people feel part of the neighborhood—before and after you’re living there.”
Nora knows how a sense of community can impact residents—especially young people. Over the years, she’s seen how both neglect and development projects can degrade neighborhoods where working families could once thrive.
“It’s like a missing tooth,” she’s said of vacant and abandoned properties. “Sometimes it creates space for greenspace or something else, but sometimes it just looks weird.” Nora believes that even a coat of paint, planting flowers or picking up litter can lift the entire morale of the neighborhood.
Even the crankiest of neighbors, Nora believes, once again being to see the value of their neighborhoods when organizations bring life to empty or abandoned lots.
“There’s a lot of ways to build a strong community. And healthy, affordable homes can help in every neighborhood.”
Room to grow
Still, she believes more investment and more attention can be given to certain neighborhoods. She’s seen how family-sized, walkable developments create community.
“There’s more of that sense of neighborhood, with different families helping out, going to the Boys and Girls Club, for example.”
Nora came to Troy when in 1987 when she was 16 years old, when her mom moved her and her five siblings from poverty in rural Columbia County to a four-bedroom apartment made affordable with a Section 8 voucher.
While her mom still struggled to make ends meet, she a believes stable, affordable place to live allowed her to succeed.
After growing her own family for nearly two decades in Troy, Nora has a keen understanding of how many factors in neighborhood revitalization impact the entire community.
“We’ve lost a lot of our family homes that are near the schools.” She lives near an apartment building converted from senior housing to apartments popular among young families, especially immigrant families. But, once young children grow up, she says, “teens stop fitting in their house. They can’t fit and it’s harder for them to find their place.”
She says that while there’s been a lot of focus on developing single-bedroom housing for young professionals, the real need is affordable, healthy homes for families in particular.
Nora believes there’s a lack of family-sized units where even middle-income families can afford to raise families, stay in their community and contribute to the tax-base to create thriving infrastructure for all neighborhoods. (This is one reason we at Habitat have moved toward building three- to four-bedroom homes!)
“Once you have an affordable house, there’s more possibilities for the kids. We were long-time tenants before buying a home. That’s part of the continuity. We need a mix of rental, homeownership and we need accessible housing, too. I remember when we were volunteering, the crew had to enlarge one of the doors so it could be accessible.” The home Nora helped build is intended to help a family age in place. That means as family members age, their home can adapt to changing mobility needs.
Nora says the kind of energy that Habitat homeowners can bring neighborhoods is exactly what’s need right now in cities like hers.
“Troy is a working-class town where a lot of people were able to grow their families. We should be throwing open our doors to new residents.”
Nora sees Habitat’s program as a solid foundation for revitalizing neighborhoods because homes are affordable to families over time, help keep entire neighborhoods strong. She points to not only her long-time community and social justice activism, but also to the roots of Habitat, Koinonia. Koinonia Farm was founded in 1940s rural Georgia as an intentional community committed to racial justice, complete equality of all people and shared generosity.
In Nora’s words, “It comes down to a neighborhood, a community that brings people together.