At the 2019 Community Health Innovation Awards (CHIA), Jared Sluss and his non-profit organization Link and Lease/Druid Hills Alliance took home an $11,000 award to further the mission of turning abandoned properties and vacant lots in the Birmingham Druid Hills neighborhood into affordable and sustainable home ownership for community members. CHIA is an annual grant competition that encourages 501 (c) (3) organizations to think boldly and creatively about solutions to “on the ground” health challenges our communities face.

Link and Lease began as a way to connect individuals graduating from outreach programs to vacant properties, allowing an opportunity to avoid housing insecurity upon leaving those programs. According to the American Public Health Association, individuals experiencing homelessness have high rates of chronic mental and physical health conditions, co-occurring disorders, and barriers to health care and affordable housing. Sluss is tackling those barriers head-on and working to create sustainable solutions that have the potential to change lives.

Link and Lease has since evolved into the Druid Hills Alliance, focused on purchasing dilapidated structures and vacant lots in the Druid Hills neighborhood, and through partnerships with residents, investors, and local businesses, creating home ownership opportunities for community members. Sluss is using half of his CHIA award funds to renovate properties in fiscally sustainable ways, and the other half to purchase vacant lots and sell them to investors and other nonprofits focused on the same mission of getting more individuals into homes and revitalizing the community. His model may be something other neighborhoods across the region could imitate.

Sluss and neighborhood President and Vice President at CHIA AwardsSluss receiving CHIA award with Druid Hills Neighborhood Association President Ed Eaton, and Vice President, Amie Evans.The housing challenges Sluss is focused on are now personal as well. The 2018 UAB graduate purchased and has been renovating his own property in the community over the last few months and has been learning much about the cost-prohibitive road blocks, like city codes and lengthy waiting periods, that are involved in turning abandoned structures into livable homes.  He attends Druid Hills neighborhood meetings in order to get to know the community’s needs and has been able to use his knowledge and experience to better serve his neighbors, while also building trust and credibility with residents who have become partners in his efforts.

When asked what the CHIA Award means to him, Sluss said, “Knowing the impact it could have directly on the neighborhood, for multiple individuals to have their lives changed in a concrete way… if you can get somebody in a house for $70-80k with a monthly mortgage payment below $400, and that home be worth twice that in five years, you can start to create generational wealth. The realization of what the money could do long-term to really impact peoples’ lives and change their stories got me, as well as the neighborhood President and Vice President who attended the awards with me, incredibly excited.”