From eyesore to attractive housing

The expanded kitchen and adjoining room at 1118 Lee St. with its wood floors and cabinets made from recycled beadboard cladding. (Photo provided by Tom Covert) NOTE: More photos can be seen on the City's Facebook page, @covingtonkygov 

Lee Street rehab set to ‘graduate’ from anti-blight program

and go on market

COVINGTON, Ky. – When Tom Covert bought 1118 Lee St. from the City of Covington in late 2019, the three-room “shotgun” house in the Westside neighborhood looked exactly like what it was: A tiny house suffering the neglect of being vacant for at least a decade and maybe twice that long.
The roof and a drop ceiling were falling in. … Shreds of an aluminum screen door “guarded” one of its entrances. … Graffiti and green mold decorated its siding. … Orphaned posts from a chain link fence jutted out of the yard. And amid the debris left by squatters, various floor coverings – carpet, linoleum – were peeling away from its ancient wood floor.
“It was pretty atrocious,” Neighborhood Services Director Ken Smith said. “Just awful.”
A creative re-imagining and a whole lot of sweat equity later, the completely transformed house is weeks away from going on the market with a take-your-pick list of selling points:
An opened-up floor plan. An abundance of natural light from new skylights and windows. Exposed rafter timbers and a refinished wood floor. Floor-to-ceiling kitchen cabinets made from beadboard cladding recycled from its ceilings and walls. Expanded closets. Wrought-iron fencing with a gate. And a secluded backyard patio and a garage that could hold two to four cars, depending upon their sizes.
One of nearly a dozen houses in a two-block radius in the process of being renovated, 1118 Lee is set to become the most recent “graduate” of a program started to return to productive use an array of once-blighted properties accumulated by the City over the last two decades.
“This is a perfect example of what we want to happen with the vacant, dilapidated, non-contributing buildings in our City,” Smith said. “When I walked through that house for the first time in 2019, I actually wondered whether anyone would even make an offer on it. I certainly never imagined that level of investment or the functionality of the new floorplan Tom designed.”
Covert said the project had started, as all renovations do, with demolition: the removal of everything from a mid-house chimney to the drop ceiling to the “extra” side door to a triangular “beak” at the top of the front façade that had given the building its “The Duck House” nickname.
He then put one end of the house on floor jacks to fix the foundation, replace floor joists, and add a sump pump. Along with the complete rehab of the interior, he built a new roof and installed energy-efficient windows. He also created a cozy backyard experience and completely rebuilt the large garage, which is accessed through an alley.
The goal was to do a “rehab with a sensitivity to the past,” he said.
“Fortunately my labor is free, because I’ve put a lot of it into this house,” Covert said. “It would have been more cost-efficient to have done a complete teardown and built something new. But then the character would have been lost.”    
City program
His Rustbelt Properties LLC won the right to purchase the house in 2019 after the City published a request for proposals.
The property was one of an array of parcels of land and vacant homes that the City accumulated over the last couple of decades, primarily under an older anti-blight initiative. 1118 Lee St. is one of the first “graduates” of an ongoing effort to return those properties to productive use, typically as single-family housing.
Others include 954 and 956 Philadelphia St., as renovated by Urban Community Developers Inc.
Eyeing development proposals one at a time, the City has sold or is taking steps to sell some 44 vacant homes or parcels of land.
“We expect to release some more requests for proposals soon,” Smith said. “Abandoned houses and vacant lots cost taxpayers money and drag down a community. The work on 1118 Lee shows how they can be transformed into something special that adds energy to the neighborhood.”
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