Many Mississippi Delta houses are in need of repair. Here’s how one woman’s renovation dream came true.

Rory Doyle is a freelance photographer based in Cleveland, Miss. This photo essay is set in Leflore County (population 28,000) with a daily newspaper, the Greenwood Commonwealth.

In early August, Gloria Jean Lewis, 61, walked into her completely remodeled home in Greenwood, Miss with a great sigh of relief.

She has lived in the house since 1998. But the years of decline led to countless problems: a collapsing roof, poor sanitary facilities, sinking floors, no central air conditioning and heating, inadequate cabling. Meeting the standards of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development as a long-term, low-income resident, Lewis qualified for a home remodeling grant from the Mississippi Home Corporation’s HOME Investment Partnerships Program, a government-administered initiative that helps ensure secure and affordable funding. Casing. The redesign was carried out by Delta Design Build Workshop (Delta DB), a Greenwood-based social impact design and construction company. “I had so many things to do,” says Lewis. “Without the scholarship, I would certainly not have been able to repair everything.”

Housing construction support is urgently needed in the economically weak Mississippi Delta, a historically black-dominated rural region with a shrinking population. According to the Delta Regional Authority, all 18 counties that make up the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area are considered to be in need, with high unemployment rates and low per capita income.

Emily Roush-Elliott, co-founder of Delta DB, sees the primary housing problem in the Delta as systemic injustice, with homes and properties in black neighborhoods being undervalued. “For example, if Ms. Lewis’s house is $ 40,000 today but she has invested over $ 80,000 over time, that is clearly not the American dream,” says Roush-Elliott. (These numbers are hypothetical.) “This begs the very frightening question, is housing a good investment for low-income Delta residents?” If estimates fall below construction costs, only high-income households can finance and build homes.

Lewis felt blessed to find a way out of a system stacked against them. “There are so many houses here that are derelict and some people just lose their homes,” she said. “It gets so bad for some people that they just can’t stay, especially if they live alone and don’t have family members to support them. I know a lot of people who end up only renting out because at least the landlord is supposed to fix things that need to be fixed. “

Lewis’ home was renovated in July thanks to a state grant. Lewis’ belongings lie in a room while her home is being renovated.

Williams paints a window frame.

Lewis organizes the blinds and other belongings.

LEFT: Williams paints a window frame. RIGHT: Lewis organizes the blinds and other belongings.

Jeremiah Whitehead, left, and Richard Elliott at work at the home. An aerial view of downtown Greenwood in the Mississippi Delta, a historically black-majority rural area with a shrinking population.

Pictures in Lewis’ converted living room.

Whitehead and BJ Kinds work outside.

LEFT: Pictures in Lewis’ converted living room. RIGHT: Whitehead and BJ Kinds work outside.

During the renovation, Lewis lived in her brother David Saffold’s house. Lewis’ newly renovated living room. Elliott, left, and Whitehead are renovating Lewis’ bathroom. Lewis in front of their converted house. “I had so many things to do,” she says of her home renovation. “Without the scholarship, I would certainly not have been able to repair everything.”