Geona Shaw Johnson's rewards for a job well done have always been the smiles of those whose homes her city department has rehabilitated.
While handing a homeowner keys to an improved house will always engender warm feelings, receiving the inaugural "Women Who Impact Preservation" award through the Historic Charleston Foundation felt pretty good, too, says Johnson, director of the city of Charleston's Department of Housing and Community Development.
"Oftentimes, we are so busy doing the work and beyond that we don't give very much thought to anything else," she says.
Johnson's office operates several programs to expand the supply of available housing for very low- and moderate-income persons.
It was the work of her department's Substantial Rehabilitation Program to improve owner-occupied historic homes of those with low incomes that garnered her the recent recognition.
In the case of a house built in the 1900s, she says:
"The matriarch was wheelchair-bound and in her late 80s or early 90s. She was not able to access her bedroom, and her son had to carry her back and forth up the stairs.
"Working with Historic Charleston Foundation and Charleston Habitat (for Humanity), we were able to rehabilitate the house to where she could access every room in the house (on Lee Street) if she wanted to," Johnson says.
In the case of a house built in the 1800s, she says:
"There was a lady on Romney Street whose family had passed the house on to her," Johnson says.
"Her house was in a dilapidated condition, and at one point, she was actually thinking about selling. I spoke to my rehab manager and construction staff, and they found she would qualify.
"They got in touch with Historic Charleston Foundation and found the house would qualify," she says. "We were able to keep someone in that community whose family has been there for generations.
Johnson's work is important and right in line with Historic Charleston Foundation's goals, says Kitty Robinson, its president and CEO.
"Preservation is an area where women have been able to be active and thrive and lead," Robinson says. "Our founder was Frances Edmunds, who not only became an icon in Charleston, but across the nation."
Johnson's work overall helps people to secure their futures and their lives in Charleston, Robinson says.
"Her office manages many activities that provide affordable housing to the people of Charleston. She has been a very effective leader," she says.
"In working with Historic Charleston Foundation and Habitat, Geona represents the very best of what preservation is all about."
Women Who Impact Preservation, a group of women ready, willing and able to support preservation efforts of the Historic Charleston Foundation, was looking for an honoree, says Robinson. It had a substantial list of qualified people.
"Geona's name rose to the top immediately," she says.
The partnership with HCF and Habitat helps to stretch federal dollars for low-income housing in the city, Johnson says.
It has completed rehabilitation of the two homes mentioned and is working on a third one, she says. Under other programs in the same office, more than 5,000 older and newer homes have been improved since 1975.
The goal is to improve neighborhoods, says Johnson. Should the partnership with HCF and Habitat rehabilitate a house and see nearby low-income homeowners in need of home help, they would contact the owners.
"We would ring a doorbell," Johnson says. "Part of our outreach person's job is to ring doorbells."
If the owner is amenable, the office would work up a case and present it to the city's Redevelopment and Preservation Commission Board which would make the selection.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Earlier versions this story incorrectly spelled Frances Edmunds last name and Kitty Robinson's title.
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.
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