Dr. Anthony C. Hood, a UAB director and professor of Civic Innovation at the Collat School of Business is on a mission. He wants YOU to be his neighbor.
Hood has been taking photographs of stately homes in his Bush Hills Neighborhood and publishing them on social media under the hashtag #NHabitBham. The posts include descriptions of the homes taken from public records and, in most cases, stunningly low property values.
“Bush Hills is a great neighborhood. We have a strong neighborhood association, a resident-led non-profit organization, a STEAM Academy, and a massive community garden. It’s a great place to live and raise a family,” said Anthony’s wife Robin Hood (yes, Robin Hood!) .
After encouraging folks to become his neighbor and take advantage of once in a lifetime real estate deals, he regularly reminds them of the abundant opportunities saying,
”It’s just one of the many beautiful houses that I take pics of on my morning walks.”
NHabit Bush Hills
Anthony and Robin enjoy entertaining friends in their home in Bush Hills.
First-time guests are typically surprised to see the large, spacious houses and lots that look much like those in Birmingham’s Forest Park, Highland Park or Crestwood neighborhoods.
“A common follow-up from one of our gatherings usually sounded something like – “we would LOVE to move over here, but when we asked our real estate agent she told us there weren’t any homes available. Let us know when something good hits the market and we’re there!,’” said Anthony.
“It was frustrating because we knew there were plenty of beautiful, yet vacant properties in our neighborhood, but because the overwhelming majority of them were not actively for sale, real estate agents had little visibility into the actual supply of potentially available homes. Many of the vacant homes were still being maintained by the owner, but were suspected to be “heir” property (meaning the heir didn’t live in town but they are still paying someone to keep the property maintained). “Robin and I saw that as both a problem and an opportunity and decided to do something about it.”
A Company is Born
So in 2014, the Hoods launched a startup company called NHabit Bush Hills. The idea was simple–cause Bush Hills to become more “inhabited” by developing more accurate and reliable metrics of the true supply of uninhabited homes. They began by walking the entire Bush Hills neighborhood block by block and creating a database of the condition of every property, complete with photos of those deemed vacant or blighted. They augmented this database with research from courthouse records, newspaper listings as well as current and prior sales data from the Multiple Listing Service used by Realtors.
“This was prior to the popularity of real estate sites such as Zillow and the establishment of the Birmingham Land Bank Authority so gathering accurate records on who owns which properties, owner contact information and the property’s tax delinquency status wasn’t as accessible and user-friendly as it is now,” added Anthony.
For every vacant or blighted property they identified, they mailed surveys to the owners of record to determine if they needed resources or desired assistance selling, renting, or repairing their property. They even asked owners of blighted properties if they would consider donating their property to a non-profit charity.
“We also began receiving requests to replicate what we were doing in other Birmingham neighborhoods,” Anthony said.
As a result, they changed the company’s name from NHabit Bush Hills to #NHabitBham.
However, despite their initial success, the founders quickly learned that developing a tool that merely managed the pipeline of on- and off-market vacant properties wasn’t enough to lead to neighborhood revitalization at scale.
“We needed to build a more repeatable and scalable tech platform that identifies and connects the entire ecosystem of players such as potential buyers, current residents, trusted contractors, investors, and service providers. Once we began going down the road of trying to add data visualization and GIS capabilities, it got very expensive very quickly,” Anthony described.
Despite investing $15,000 in winnings from a UAB-sponsored pitch competition and several thousand of their own dollars, the early-stage founders learned what many of Anthony’s current entrepreneurship students and startups he advises learn–it’s going to take significantly more time and money to get to scale than initially thought.
“At the time, I was on track for earning promotion and tenure at UAB so I had to make a decision–walk away from tenure and become a full-time entrepreneur or put the company on pause and stay the academic course.”
Choosing the latter, he was ultimately promoted and tenured in 2017 and a year later accepted the role of Director of Civic Innovation in the Office of the President. In many ways, his civic innovation work is an extension of where he left off–improving the Birmingham community by building a platform that connects people across the entire ecosystem.
“What I’m doing right now is trying to peak people’s interest and let them know, hey, those same houses that you’re looking at in Crestwood, Avondale, Forest Park, and Highland Park that are $300-400k, you can buy that same house for $30k in Bush Hills or our surrounding neighborhoods.”
“To me, it just doesn’t make sense to pay 5-10 times the amount for a property on the eastern side of downtown you could purchase just a few miles west of downtown. And so, social media has been an outlet for my thinking on that. You know, I’ve actually been surprised with the reception it’s received.”
Amenities All Around
Anthony also listed Bush Hills and its surrounding neighborhood’s many amenities:
- Birmingham Southern College
- Princeton Hospital
- McLendon Park (100 acre greenspace that houses Legion Field Stadium)
- Access to I-65
- Only 3 miles from UAB
“When you come from an asset-based standpoint, we have so many assets in and around this “5 Points West community” that includes College Hills, Bush Hills, Graymont, Fairview and Ensley. It’s just rich, and I just want people to value this side of town the way that I and so many of my neighbors do.”
It’s personal – walking through the neighborhood
Asked why reviving Bush Hills and surrounding neighborhoods matter so much to him, Anthony, an Ensley native told us he is very passionate about the area.
“My family goes back several generations to this community. I was born on 19th Street in Ensley and so was my mother. 19th Street turns into Bush Blvd. I rode the school bus to Ramsay all throughout high school and Bush Blvd was on our route. I remember thinking this area is so pretty – I’m gonna live here one day. And in 2003, we had an opportunity to purchase and renovate a house on Bush Blvd, so that was like the culmination of a childhood dream. He and Robin have since purchased and renovated several other homes in Bush Hills.
“We have good people here and the people make the neighborhood.”
Take a Walk
Want to become the Hood family’s neighbors? Follow the hashtag #NHabitBham on Instagram and Facebook.
There ARE many beautiful houses in Bush Hills and the surrounding communities. Just take some pics with Anthony on a morning walk.