CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Empowering thousands of low to moderate-income families through the city of Charleston to become first-time homeowners, Geona Shaw Johnson has made it her mission for the last 15 years to do just that.

Helping families buy, maintain, and renovate homes in the City of Charleston is the goal for Johnson and her team at the City of Charleston’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

“This area was redeveloped in 2013; it includes a mix of rental housing for low- and moderate-income individuals, it includes market-rate housing and includes houses that were constructed under our first-time homeownership program,” explained Johnson.

For more than 15 years, Johnson has served as the department’s director.

“We actually help to create and preserve affordable workforce housing in the City of Charleston,” she said. “For somebody who desires to do it and they’re the first person in their family to own a home, that is a phenomenal feeling.”

The mission of the Department of Housing and Community Development is to create and preserve housing and create economic opportunities.

“I actually help people buy houses. We have a first-time home buyers’ program, and we facilitate that program by working with for-profit developers who build housing as well as nonprofit organizations that build housing. Additionally, we help people remain in their homes and we call that preservation. So, folks who live in their homes but are struggling to maintain those homes. we have programs that literally help them do that.”

In addition, the department has rehabilitation programs, which include roof replacement, substantial, and rental rehabilitation programs.

65-year-old Deborah Edwards’s historic downtown home received major renovations through the programs offered.

“They tore off the back part of my house and add two bedrooms, two baths, and a laundry room in the hall and they remodeled the two rooms they kept,” said Edwards. “I am very thankful.”

Edwards is not alone. Their services impact four thousand families annually.

“We have assisted over 11,000 households. When you double that, of course, that equates to over 22-thousand people …  we have impacted a number of households,” said Johnson

Johnson says she gives all the credit to her amazing team, working on the front lines. Her staff is essential to the progress made throughout the communities they serve.

“I’m working in the back, in the shadows if you will, to make sure we can continue to do this for years to come.”

Johnson believes her role with the city of Charleston enables her to give back to those who are less fortunate and empower them to turn dreams into reality.

“We handed a key to a 60-year-old African American who never owned a home before. So, when we think about opportunity and legacy, that’s a legacy she will be able to leave her family forever. If it were not for that program, it would not have come to fruition. For me, witnessing a miracle like that is pretty phenomenal.”

Making a difference one key at a time.

“Our goal is to improve the lives of individuals in the city of Charleston, and we do that by improving your living conditions and I think that makes a difference at the end of the day.”

Funding for the Department of Housing and Community Development programs comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the City of Charleston. The department receives $3 million from HUD annually.

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