Juan Bates has lived in Frogtown for most of his life. He was serving on the board of Greater Frogtown Community Development Corporation (GFCDC) at the time of their merger with Community Neighborhood Housing Services, when they became NeighborWorks Home Partners (NWHP). He is one of the longest serving board members, and is also a leader in the Frogtown neighborhood as moderator of their community Facebook group.
Q: You’ve been a volunteer with GFCDC/NWHP for a while now. Which came first: the community activism or being a customer?
A: If I had to put decide which came first, I would have to say it was being a customer. Back in 2009, I purchased my home from Greater Frogtown CDC and have lived there ever since. A few years after, I decided to start a community Facebook page with a friend, and the following year I joined the Greater Frogtown CDC Board. I don’t know if I would call myself a community activist. I feel like I contribute what I can (mostly virtually) but love being able to see resources that can be helpful to people, or point people in the right direction for help myself or see it happen so I learn and know better myself.
Q: What role does the Facebook group serve? Why do you think it’s important?
A: I try to focus my attention on helping it be used as a unifying force, as there are so many sources of division prevalent online. I also think there are so many resources available in our community and if people knew about them that would help them live higher quality lives. This is done knowing not everyone has a great relationship with their neighbors onsite and I am glad to see people in our area being able to make connections with their neighbors online, share and learn about new opportunities from each other, and build towards the community they want to see around them.
Q: Why did you decide to serve on the board of GFCDC and NWHP and why do you continue to serve?
A: I decided to serve on the board because it was going to be a new experience for me and a way to give back to this community. I feel like it is worthwhile to serve because the task that NWHP is here to solve is one that exists for many reasons. The customers who use the services could very well be my own family members or neighbors. There are so many people who only know how to rent and do not know owning a home is within their reach.
Q: How does your perspective as a customer inform your service as a board member?
A: Although it has been many years since I was a customer, I try to keep the mindset of what makes a meaningful difference to people who are first time homebuyers who have no idea what to anticipate, the fear of signing papers obligating you to pay on a mortgage for 30 years and all of the possible things that could go wrong. It helps me knowing that NWHP is a resource in our community to help people stay in and maintain their homes with the variety of programming we provide. When I lack motivation, I think about it and think if I do not do this, who will? I also try to keep these peoples interests in mind when it comes to decision making and that usually helps me get through my barriers.
It has also been a learning journey for me as I am one of the few board members that does not work in the housing, housing development or finance related industries. In recent years as our governance chair I have pushed for changes to help new board members be better acclimated and have also made efforts to have the board be more reflective of the diverse communities that we serve.
Q: What do you love about your community? Have you always lived here?
A: I have lived in Frogtown the majority of my nearly 40 years of life. I grew up in the neighborhood without knowing about many of its amenities. I have enjoyed building relationships with people I am friends with to this day who still call the neighborhood home. I like living in the city, being centrally located and being able to get almost anything I need within a few minutes.
We have had friends that moved to rural areas and I see them struggle to access many things we have access to. They have to plan trips and make lists and be intentional about items they get from the store and plan days in advance to attend cultural activities. We can hear of something and be in the fray the same day, or take the bus or train somewhere if we want. It’s a reminder of what I liked when I was a kid, like on a random spring Saturday morning hearing the drums of a parade that would come down Thomas Avenue (which I believe was a parade put on by the Thomas-Dale block club.) It was so much fun and I think that stuck with me.
Q: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about buying a home and isn’t sure they can do it?
A: I would challenge someone who thinks they cannot afford a home to compare the actual cost with the rent they pay. I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to live somewhere at low to no cost to save money towards purchasing a home. To the folks that compare the cost to rent, even with added upkeep the investment and ability to have an asset that helps build wealth and stability make it a better option even when the amount that goes out of the door is similar. For myself, I established a threshold for rent and once rent was going to be beyond that threshold, I knew it was time for me to look in to purchasing a home. I’m fortunate to have been able to maintain paying on my home the entire time but would still encourage someone to purchase a home and put the time into making certain it is the right thing for them. Then get to know their neighbors and build relationships.