BY MARIE McCAIN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LINCOLN HEIGHTS -- When Leroy Harris moved to this area in 1946, Valley Homes was just a small group of houses next to the makeshift military barracks where he stayed.
Fresh from World War II and the Army, he'd gotten a job at a Lockland paper plant and was saving money to bring his wife, Armillar, and their three children up from Alabama.
"The military barracks wasn't any place to bring my family, so I got on a waiting list (for Valley Homes)," Mr. Harris said. "It was convenient, near where I worked, and I wasn't making much money and it was what I could afford. I ordered three rooms of furniture and I waited for them to come."
Mrs. Harris and the children arrived a year later.
"It was beautiful," Mrs. Harris said. "There was just a few houses then, but everything was so nice and new. People who lived here helped one another and cared for one another."
It wasn't unusual to find different branches of the same family, sometimes a couple of generations, living there. Mr. Harris' two brothers and their families had homes there.
By 1963, the Harrises had added a fourth child and needed a larger place. They found what they needed -- a two-bedroom apartment -- in the Valley Homes complex.
But age was taking its toll.
The old plumbing couldn't always meet the need. The electrical system started to fail.
"All these appliances, refrigerators, televisions -- everything -- the wiring couldn't handle it," Mrs. Harris said.
The Harrises saw the decline in other ways, too. They watched as homeowners either died or moved out. Renters moved in.
"People who own their places seem to care more," Mr. Harris said. One renter drove his moving truck up and over the lawn to get close to the front door. He ignored their pleas to not tear up the grass.
They noticed the maintenance staff became more lax. Repairs were shoddy.
The loud music started and pretty soon the flower pots outside the Harris home became the only ones in their section.
Now at 83 (Leroy) and 76 (Armillar), the Harrises say they'll probably never leave Valley Homes.
"If I could move I would," Mr. Harris said. "I'd love to have a house with a yard in the back, but it's what I can afford and, really, where else would we go?"
Mr. Harris said help from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would be a step toward making things better. If the buildings were fixed up and maintained, that would spur ownership. And that, he said, would go a long way in bolstering community pride and making Valley Homes, once again, a place where people would want to live.