by Hannah Saulters
“We’re trying to flip the pancake.”
It’s a phrase Andy Frame, executive director of Revitalize Mississippi, has borrowed from the non-profit’s founder, Jim Johnston.
Frame explains, “There’s a negative perception of the city of Jackson because there are so many houses and properties that have been vacant and abandoned for years. If a house burns down and it isn’t cleaned up right away, then the houses around it are abandoned pretty quickly. It spreads like a cancer; it’s contagious.”
Revitalize Mississippi has a dual mission: to contain the blight that affects those abandoned houses and lots and to put properties back in the hands of the neighborhood, “because they’re the ones with the most influence and interest and ability to make long-term changes. You could go in and do a quick development, but it’s not sustainable if you aren’t taking into account the needs and abilities of the community,” Frame says.
Although Frame is not a native Jacksonian, he has made it his mission to improve the city he, his wife, and their two children call home. Frame graduated from Auburn University and attended law school at Mississippi College. “I never thought I would live in Mississippi,” Frame says. As fate would have it, after receiving an LLM in Agriculture and Food Law from Arkansas, Frame returned to the Magnolia State to work at Adams and Reese law firm and be closer to his wife’s family.
While at the firm, his focus was timber accounts, but early on he received a pro-bono account: Jim Johnston and Revitalize Mississippi. “I loved my four years at Adams and Reeves, but it got to a point where I was working with Jim more and more and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if this were my full-time job?’”
Luckily, Johnston felt the same way.
Frame’s role has evolved since he first starting advising Johnston on land permits and demo licensing.
“Jim is just constantly banging his head against the wall of bureaucracy and I’m just trying to help him get through it,” jokes Frame.
Since 2016, Revitalize Mississippi has led 85 demolitions and 300 lot cleanups around Jackson.
Although much of the work Frame does consists of collaborating with the city and state to take over lots that have been foreclosed on and rehab them for new owners, Frame says he’s learned the most working with local organizers. “There are so many non-profits in Jackson and everyone’s trying to do their projects, but we really need to start working together, combining those goals to make a bigger impact.”
One of the greatest successes to come out of this kind of collaboration is the establishment of a Community Land Trust (CLT) around Rosemont M.B. Church in West Jackson wherein “a non-profit corporation acquires and holds land.” Because the Trust is owned by the community, the neighborhood has complete control of the land use, empowering them to build green spaces, community gardens and affordable housing.
When considering the impact of projects like Rosemont’s CLT, the professional becomes personal for Frame, who has recently moved homes within Fondren. He says people always ask, “Why don’t you just buy new construction instead of dealing with an old house?” Frame answers with his own question.
“If everyone did that, what would happen?”