Changes in Everett neighborhood echo across Lincoln

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School children pass by Alnoor Market, one of several businesses in Everett that appeal to the neighborhood’s diverse residents. Photo by Morgan Spiehs, NewsNetNebraska

It’s 8 a.m. on a November morning and people in the Everett neighborhood are starting another day.

Children begin another school day at Everett Elementary, where dozens of different languages are spoken. Pan Dulce Bakery has been open since 6:30 a.m., selling freshly baked bread and pastries. College students use the bike lane on 11th Street to head to classes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

At Cultiva, Pablo Cervantes sits at a table and drinks coffee at the 11th Street coffee shop popular with everyone from hipsters to the mayor of Lincoln.

“Around here it’s just like a small world,” said Cervantes, a Mexican immigrant who owns rental property in the neighborhood. “You have people from all over. And it’s really interesting how they interact. I bring my kids to the Mexican bakery and while we are there you can see people from all over the world coming to buy bread. It’s not from their culture but they embrace it and eat it. You have different events going on here. Different immigrants are bringing different spices to Lincoln.”

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Everett is located between H and South streets from Ninth to 13th streets.

The neighborhood, like the rest of the city, is experiencing a demographic shift. In 2000 the Everett neighborhood had a diversity index of 55.1, which means there is a 55.1 percent probability that two people chosen at random would be of a different race or ethnicity. It’s estimated that by next year that number will be at 72.9 with the Hispanic population growing by 11 percent—more than any other race in the neighborhood.

Everett is witnessing a renaissance of sorts. Indebted to its past, the Everett neighborhood is trying to open a new chapter in its history. Although challenges still exist, landlords, city officials, Lincoln police and residents are pushing to make this a better neighborhood for everyone.

The demographic trend occurring in Everett is repeating itself across Lincoln. A report released by Lincoln Vital Signs shows Nebraska’s capital city has become more ethnically and racially diverse in the past six years. From 2005 to 2011 Lincoln’s white population increased by 10 percent while the non-white population increased 55 percent. According to the report, since 2005 the Latino population has grown 74 percent from 9,672 to 16,819 people.

The city in the middle of America’s heartland is also home to immigrants and refugees from Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar, Vietnam and more. Data from the United States Census Bureau shows that of Lincoln’s 268,738 people, 7.6 percent are foreign born.

Other Lincoln neighborhoods are seeing similar changes. The Near South neighborhood’s diversity index increased by 16.6 percent and the Clinton neighborhood’s diversity index increased by 15.2 percent with biggest gains in both neighborhoods coming from the Latino population.

Cervantes, who moved from Monterrey, Mexico, to Lincoln about 12 years ago, said it’s easy to see why immigrants are moving to Lincoln and finding a new home in neighborhoods like Everett and the Near South.

“The reason why is because Lincoln has such good people in general,” Cervantes said. “Good city organizations that help them (immigrants and refugees) flourish. They feel safe. Rent is cheap compared to other places. Locals are friendly. And crime is low compared to other communities.”

Like many current Everett residents, when Cervantes immigrated to Lincoln in 2002, he didn’t speak English and didn’t know anyone. He was occasionally homeless while he worked as a roofer, removed asbestos and cleaned bathrooms at the mall.

“When I was doing that I was happy because when I came here like any other immigrant I wanted to have a better life,” Cervantes said of his early struggles in Lincoln. “I was tired of being poor. I knew the United States was a better opportunity. My goal when I came was if I can make $3.25 an hour I’ll be the richest man in my neighborhood. That’s what I was thinking about.”

He was eventually able to move into an apartment in the Near South neighborhood. Twelve years later, Cervantes owns that apartment, the building its in and several other buildings in the Near South and Everett neighborhoods. In total, Cervantes is responsible for 102 units in Lincoln. He buys apartment buildings that need repairs, rehabs them and then rents to families.

Capital City is attractive to newcomers

Lincoln’s diverse public elementary schools, easy access to transportation, minority-owned businesses and affordable rent all make older neighborhoods like Everett attractive to immigrants and refugees, Cervantes said.

It’s been common for immigrants and refugees to band together in sections of Lincoln where they share a language, religion and culture creating a strong sense of community.

This has happened in neighborhoods throughout Lincoln’s history regardless of race or socioeconomic status, said Tom Casady, public safety director and former Lincoln police chief. This social cohesion among neighbors and a willingness to intervene for the betterment of an area is known as collective efficacy, and Casady said it’s one of the reasons crime in Lincoln is so low.

“Sometimes you get these natural leaders in neighborhoods that organize others that make a huge difference,” Casady said. “They just have this ability to gather other people.”

In Lincoln, neighborhood associations play a big role in developing a neighborhood’s personality and changing how it’s perceived in the city. Casady said he worries about the areas of Lincoln that lack collective efficacy and stakeholders because that’s normally where you see crime increase.

Lincoln’s Malone neighborhood has undergone a transformation similar to the one in Everett, but it took a few generations, said Wynn Hjermstad, community development manager for the city of Lincoln.

Everett changed so quickly because two things happened, Hjermstad said. First, the neighborhood association involved landlords in the discussions of how to improve the neighborhood. And second, the Lincoln Police Department started problem-oriented policing to change the crime problem in the area.

Cervantes said he is optimistic about the direction the Everett neighborhood is heading.

“As an investor you always look for areas that are at the end of their cycle,” Cervantes said. “Every neighborhood and town will go through a cycle where it flourish, stabilizes and declines. I believe that this neighborhood is at the end of declining and is going to go up.”

Lincoln city officials said the difference between a neighborhood flourishing or faltering are the residents living there. And in Everett and other neighborhoods throughout Lincoln that doesn’t have to mean wealthy people or investors moving into the community. It’s citizens and landlords like Cervantes coming together and caring about the neighborhood regardless of background or socioeconomic status.

The making of a comeback

Cervantes isn’t the only one who believes Everett is making a comeback and putting their money where their mouth is.

In 2009, Greg and Paula Baker sold their paid-off house in Lincoln’s Country Club neighborhood to move into a 130-year-old mansion in the Everett neighborhood that had stood vacant for three years.

The home is known as the Outcalt-Hall House on South 11th Street and like so much of the Everett neighborhood it has been a victim of time and economic downturns. It was built in 1884 when many Nebraskans were still homesteading and living in sod houses out on the prairie.

When Frank and Anna Hall, a lawyer and his wife, purchased the house in 1894 they filled it with a collection of paintings and sculptures that would later become part of the Sheldon Museum of Art’s permanent collection. But since the Halls death in 1928 the home was used in a series of different ways as the decades turned. In the 1930s it was turned into rooms to rent for the night, then apartments, then a bed and breakfast before sitting vacant for years.

A few friends thought the Bakers were crazy for moving into the 130-year-old home. When the Bakers first moved in drug deals were conducted on the sidewalk in front of the house. Prostitutes worked the corners. And many of the grand neighboring mansions had been split into multiple apartments instead of single-family homes.

And yet, Greg Baker said the family felt called to the corner.

‘You can’t just keep doing the urban sprawl’

“We wanted to be part of the change that made this neighborhood get back to where it should be,” Greg Baker said. “I think we were fortunate to have enough foresight to know that downtown areas like this all around the country are really being emphasized again. You can’t just keep doing the urban sprawl. For one people are burning out on that. People have to drive so far to work and people are realizing you just can’t have viable suburbs and a viable downtown and everything in between falls into decay. We wanted to be part of that change. And that’s what happened.”

In addition to the stakeholders, in the five years since the Bakers moved into the Everett neighborhood the Lincoln Police Department and city of Lincoln Urban Development department have stepped up efforts to improve the neighborhood.

Lincoln Police have a visible presence and the Bakers said crime has gone down since they moved into the area.

Hjermstad said federal funds like the Community Development Block Grant and HOME have been used to make infrastructure improvements in Everett and other low to moderate-income neighborhoods like Clinton and Malone.

Recently Hjermstad and the Everett Neighborhood Association have teamed up to identify problems in Everett. The city has invested in creating bike lanes, sidewalk repairs, lighting improvements and the first on street parking for bicycles in front of Cultiva. Bigger projects include creating bump outs in the intersections that contain what are known as rain gardens designed to catch rain that then percolates down and is cleaned naturally before going into the storm system.

“Part of what we do and what we know is that when a city goes in and makes investments in the public it sends a message to the private sector,” Hjermstad said. “That these are good neighborhoods. They’re neighborhoods worth investing in. Studies from across the country show when we go in and make improvements like this it does have an impact on the housing and the private sector.”

Other stories in this series:
 NewLOGOTurning the corner: A neighborhood in transition
 Neighbors in action: The anatomy of a comeback
 The heart of Everett — the business district — has a new rhythm
 The people of Everett: ‘All walks of life live down here’
 Neighborhood’s unofficial watchdog helps in many ways
 

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