Building homes, rebuilding a future - News, Weather and Sports for Lincoln, NE;

Building homes, rebuilding a future

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By: Bill Schammert

At 1520 Van Dorn Street, it's an open house one year in the making, but this makeover is coming from some of the unlikeliest of builders.

"You get a bunch of inmates and you don't think it'll turn out this good, but it's beautiful," John Horst said.

For the last 10 years, Horst has been defined by his past; serving a 22-year sentence for taking another life. 

But, for the last six months, he has learned to define himself by a future he once thought was lost.

"It's overwhelming to an extent, because when you do so much time, you lose hope, you start to think you won't get that second chance."

Horst is one of 10 inmates that helped rebuild the home that less than a year ago was abandoned, then demolished.

In partnership with Prairie Gold Homes, inmates are given a chance to get out of the corrections center, take classes and receive hands on job site training for when they're released.

"It gives us a chance to give back to the communities and be a positive influence, where previously we had been negative in the past," Horst said.

It's part of the "Rescue Program" put on by Lincoln's Urban Development Department.  The program has now redeveloped 26 blighted homes in the last three years using federal stimulus money. 

In some of those cases, the city partners with companies like Prairie Gold Homes, other times they use NeighborWorks or Habitat for Humanity.

Urban Development Director, Dave Landis, says the tax value on those homes has increased 500-percent.

"And in every one of them, a single family, low to moderate income, who takes a great deal of pride in the homes," Landis said.

The homeowners, who do pay for the homes, are given extensive training on how to manage a new house, including a mortgage payment.

As for Horst, he says he plans to keep building these types of homes through the Prairie Gold Homes program.  Once out, he hopes to open up his own construction company.

"I'll have a chance to show who I truly am and be judged by my character, not by my crime."

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