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‘Life as a house’

Kokomo program helps renovate former addict’s home

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recovery

Restored Life, restored Home—Talik Woodard lost 27 years of his life to drug addiction. He's now five years clean and has rebuilt the house he inheritated from his grandfather thanks to the help of the City of Kokomo's Exterior Home Improvement Program. 

Talik Woodard inherited his home from his grandfather. He wanted to make sure Woodard always had a roof over his head. In order to ensure that was possible, he turned the deed to the house over to his children, Woodard’s aunt and uncles.

He did this because Woodard was an addict.

Talik Woodard’s dream was to become a professional baseball player. Those dreams began to crumble in the early 1990s. His mother died right before his senior year of high school. Coping with his mother’s passing, Woodard became addicted to crack cocaine.

His addiction spanned 27 years. There were more than 50 arrests, some prison time. Relationships ended. His grandfather’s home deteriorated, became an eyesore. It was the drug house on the block. His neighbors knew he was inside, getting high.

An unmanageable life

Without his mother, things quickly unraveled for Woodard. He didn’t play baseball during his senior year of high school. He needed the structure his mother provided in the family’s home. He also convinced himself that drugs were the way to dull his pain.

“For years I justified continuing to use drugs because my mother passed away,” he said. “One thing I realized is that using drugs — it cancels the thoughts. But when you wake up the next day [the thoughts are] still there. So I’d get high again the next day and it just turned from recreational to full blown addiction.”

Woodard and his siblings were brought up to love God, but he turned away from church out of shame. His marriage ended. He lost contact with his daughter. His grandparents, however, kept their faith in him and loved him unconditionally.

“They didn’t like that I did drugs, but they didn’t give up on me,” he said.

His dissipation led to a “catastrophic, unmanageable life.”

Meanwhile, the house his grandfather had given him fell into disrepair. The roof sagged, exhausted, its gray shingles bruised and beaten. The porch and yard were cluttered with items pushed away from within. Back windows were boarded up, their white paint eroding, the orange of a “no trespassing” sign the only color in the bleak darkness.

A fresh start

Talik Woodard was five years sober, after having decided to improve his life while in prison, when he looked into the Kokomo Exterior Home Improvement Program (EHIP).

The city of Kokomo has been funding some form of the program since the 1990s, said Peter Shah, the cty of Kokomo’s development specialist. Thanks to a community development block grant, the city allocates nearly $200,000 each fiscal year to EHIP. Typically, the funding goes to 10 houses a year. That may not seem like much, but across a decade the city can rehabilitate 100 homes.

Woodard was working as a recovery counselor at Turning Point, 618 S. Main St., an organization focused on helping those struggling with addiction and mental health. They had guided him on his path to recovery and now he was helping others find their way to a better life. Recovery had provided him with the accountability he had lost when his mother died. He now had to answer to his peers and mentors if he made a misstep, and that provided him with the structure he had been missing. He also learned to trust people and ask for help.

He sought mentors to help him with his finances. He began to repair his credit.

“I was no longer thinking about today,” he said. “I was thinking about what my future would look like.”

He had improved so many things, but his house still reflected those darks times. Woodard came home after helping people find bright spots in their life and was reminded what he had been through.

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“I would come home and be discouraged,” he said. “I knew that I didn’t have the money to fix it.”

So he applied to the EHIP program.

There was a bit of a snag, however. The house was still under the names of his aunt and uncles. Woodard had to approach each one and ask that they change that. They had seen his commitment to recovery and trusted him. They signed the deed over to Woodard.

A happy home

The Exterior Home Improvement Program focuses on two areas of the city per year, and each block gets two years of attention before being rotated out of the program for a new area. Currently, the city is focusing on a boxed area between Lordeman Street, Jefferson Street, Apperson Way and Ohio Avenue. There’s also a distorted trapezium that encloses King Street, Courtland Avenue, Harrison Street, Brandon Street, Markland Avenue and Apperson Way.

Shah said the city maps out requests for the program, and that helps them determine the next location. He’s helped many people work through the application and has seen how the results of an improved home can be life-changing.

Shah said those who improve their home often have increased pride about their house, which leads to more happiness in their lives. Homeowners will put more effort into caring for their property, and that new energy will sometimes spread to their neighbors and across the neighborhood.

“A lot of times when I am signing the contract with folks, they have tears in their eyes,” he said.

Woodard has experienced the positive energy and neighborly goodwill. He said sometimes he will be out working in his yard and neighbors will drive by, shouting support out their car window.

“The citizens of Kokomo have always made it a priority — both publicly and privately — to care for those who are in need in our community,” said Mayor Tyler Moore. “It demonstrates a level of respect for each other and helps provide individuals with greater human dignity. So the city’s use of available funds like these that have specific purposes is a perfect complement to this practice.”

The only terms to the loan are that the homeowner must stay in the house between three to five years, depending on the loan amount. This prevents people from getting repairs completed and then flipping the house for a profit. If a homeowner would move out before the loan period is up, then the owner would be required to pay back the loan.

“The Exterior Home Improvement program is successful because the homeowners are so quick to buy in and work with us,” Mayor Moore said. “Our goals are to protect the tax base, create friendly, attractive neighborhoods and increase safety. We want to create a situation where homeowners, who are low to moderate income, can protect their investment and help make their block a great place to live.”

Woodard isn’t done working on his home. Or on himself. He wants to tackle the kitchen next. He encourages people who qualify for the program to reach out and apply. It may take some time to be accepted and receive the funding, but it’s worth the wait.

“Don’t lose patience,” Shah said. “We will never cut corners. We will get to you as long as you qualify and are eligible. If you are applying to this program, don’t lose hope. We will come to you. It’s just a matter of time.”

Woodard has hope now and he’s working hard to never lose it again. When he comes home, it’s to a house covered in healthy tan siding with a bright brown roof. A solid porch supported with white bricks, banisters and railing welcomes the neighborhood to visit. Woodard’s girlfriend has provided some fall décor. There is landscaping ready to burst with new life next spring.

“I am forever grateful for [EHIP],” Woodard said. “I would encourage people to check into it. Today I come home and I am astonished instead of depressed, because I never would have thought [this home] would look like this.”

“That’s how I look at my recovery,” he said. “This old house … this old body has been transformed just like my house."

For more information about EHIP visit https://www.cityofkokomo.org/departments/development/community_development.php.