Look out Shelby County–Here comes Norwood

Mechelle Sippial Wilder
Mechelle Sippial Wilder

Today’s guest columnist is Mechelle Wilder.

Some 40 years ago, I was a student at Samford University, dating a young pastor of a small Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Norwood.

The church itself was picturesque with its dark hardwood flooring and banisters, beautiful stained-glass windows, and towering ceiling. It set as a sparkling gem amid the deteriorating and crime ridden neighborhood.

Some two years later, I married that young pastor and we moved into the parsonage next to the church.

Many of my family and friends were surprised that I would agree to live in such a crumbling and unsafe area, but what did I care, we were in love, and it was rent free!

Because of the trash that regularly filled the alleys, we sometimes had uninvited guests- dogs, cats, and alley rats. We did our best to board up holes under the house and put out traps, but because of the discarded food in the trash cans, it was a losing battle.

In the afternoons, we would jog along Norwood Boulevard, looking at what had once been one of the wealthier neighborhoods in Birmingham. The large Georgian-styled mansions with their wrap around front porches and detached garages made the area a virtual architectural showplace. We even inquired into purchasing one for ourselves, but the renovation costs were over our budget at the time, not to mention the high insurance premiums due to the accelerating crime rate and red lining.

Two years later, we left that starter home and moved into a newly built home in Shelby County. My husband also left that church and later began pastoring another church in Norwood’s sister community of Collegeville. Each Sunday we would drive past Norwood and the Old Carraway Hospital complex wondering would North Birmingham ever change for the better.

Norwood home values compare to homes in Shelby County

Needless to say, that time has arrived. Today the home values in Norwood positively compare to the home values in Shelby County.

In the past 12 months, 26 homes have sold in Norwood. The average sales price for a 1671 sq ft, 3-bedroom home was $195,000. That’s $117 per sq ft. Compare that to 12 similarly sized homes in Alabaster that sold for approx. $130 per sq ft during that same time frame.

There have also been outliers in Norwood. For example, in November of 2021, a 2354 sq ft home sold for $400,125. That’s $204 per sq ft.

Even as I am writing this article, there are six active homes in Norwood with an average sales price of $330,000. This includes a 2770 sq ft home listed for $520,000.

Norwood like the rest of Birmingham is in the middle of a housing shortage. There is less than one month of inventory across all of Jefferson and Shelby Counties. Home prices are soaring, causing houses to sell over list price.

That factor, along with the accelerated growth of the Northern area of Birmingham has been a huge benefit for Norwood. The improved interstate system, Uptown Entertainment District, Protective Stadium, Topgolf and the new plans for the Carraway Hospital Complex have all benefited the area.

Other Birmingham neighborhoods making a comeback

I would be negligent if I failed to mention other Birmingham neighborhoods such as Downtown Birmingham, Southside, Avondale, Crestwood, Forest Park, Bush Hills, Woodlawn and more that are all making a comeback.

In Woodlawn new construction prices are selling for more than $300,000 with Avondale’s average sales prices in the $400,000 to 500,000+ range. Downtown Birmingham condos and townhomes are selling for an average sold price of $300,000 to over $1 million dollars. Bush Hills is also benefitting with their average sold price of $197,000 and the highest sold price of $275,000.

Norwood is a neighborhood in walking distance to downtown Birmingham. Today it has many renovated homes plus a racially diverse group of residents. It is surrounded by commercial establishments that have added to its beauty.

Norwood’s restored homes have drawn many former suburban dwellers into the city. A once mainly African American neighborhood is now following the trend of other inner-city communities.

Mechelle Sippial Wilder, JD, is the foundering partner of ARC Realty, the largest private real estate company in Alabama. She has been a real estate agent for 21 years. She is married to the Rev Dr Thomas L Wilder Jr, pastor of the Historic Bethel Baptist Church in Collegeville. They have been married 38 years and have 4 children and 2 sons-in-law.

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David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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7 thoughts on “Look out Shelby County–Here comes Norwood”

  1. Thanks for writing this Mechelle. I am an admirer of Norwood and so pleased to see its redevelopment–and not a gentrification.

    Our good friend Chervis Isom wrote a wonderful book, The Newspaper Boy, set in Norwood. I hope that Comeback Town readers will take the opportunity to take a stroll through Norwood to see why it is so special.

  2. Norwood’s restored homes have drawn many former suburban dwellers into the city. A once mainly African American neighborhood is now following the trend of other inner-city communities.”

    The nouveau rich are pushing out the poor and usually Black former residents.

    It’s called “Gentrification,” and usually overlooks the poor original residents and forces them out to older yet, and poorer, neighborhoods. The Yuppies and newly rich look for cheap but rehab-able properties in close-to-town areas.

    Not surprisingly, the author is a real estate agent… S-I-G-H…

    1. Actually, the majority of the renovation projects that have been completed in Norwood are houses that were previously vacant, some which had been vacant for years and were in real danger of demolition. Now that home prices have come up we are actually seeing many of our neighbors able to obtain financing so that they too can update their homes as they desire (as you may or may not know, renovating large historic homes is very cost prohibitive and can often not be done by saving cash alone). I’m very excited that some of my neighbors have been able to benefit in this way and I hope it will allow them to enjoy their home for many years to come. There’s also a number of young families in Norwood that have been able to purchase or inherit a family home to move into themselves. Gentrification is a very serious issue and I can assure you that no resident of Norwood that has moved into the neighborhood in the past 10 years wants to gentrify the neighborhood. The residents that have lived in Norwood for 50, 60 years are one of the most valuable things about the neighborhood, but I can also assure you that if you asked any one of those long term residents that they wouldn’t want the long vacant homes on their street to continue sitting empty. Unfortunately, vacant houses can become magnets for criminal activity and trespassing. Norwood has even seen a number of vacant homes catch fire, which is dangerous to our neighbors and our firefighters. I hope this sheds some light on what is really going on with this “revitalization”.

      1. I came here to raise my concern over gentrification as well, but am very glad to see a Norwood resident comment here. Thank you for your input, Keely! Both gentrification and urban blight are huge concerns, and are tricky issues to navigate.
        .
        Another thing to consider, that Keely brought up, is how Norwood has been historically redlined by financial institutions/mortgage lenders after the “Great White Flight” of the 60s. People who may have family living in the neighborhood and want to stay close to their relatives would have a very hard time, if it even happens at all, to get mortgage loans and be able to buy in those redlined areas where their families are. Now, with the area becoming more attractive to buyers, people are more likely to get the funding they need to purchase a home in Norwood. This helps people who grew up in the neighborhood be able to stay in the neighborhood. And, to the folks who’ve been there and are in need of selling their home, they’re able to make more money off the sale bc of the higher property value.
        .
        Again, gentrification, urban blight, and redlining are incredibly difficult social constructs to overcome. I’m hoping any folks who invest in that area are sensitive to those issues, and are conscientious of their impacts on the community. It’s easy to paint a situation as either good/bad, black/white, but it’s not as effective as acknowledging the complications of each of the issues that make up the big picture, and do the best you can with what you’ve got to make as positive an impact as possible.

  3. Interesting and informative. In order to better understand urban revitalization in Norwood and elsewhere in the City of Birmingham – especially as it pertains to residential real estate – I have a few questions for Ms. Wilder:
    1. What is the median – not mean (average) – sales price of houses that sold last year in Norwood and elsewhere in the city?
    2. How many *new* residential properties – single-family homes, townhouses, condos – were sold last year or are presently under construction in the city? Not rehabs and not apartments or other rental properties.
    3. Where do you live today? If you said so in your article, I missed it and apologize.
    Thanks.

  4. Thank you so much, Mechelle, for your informative article. I grew up in Norwood in the mid to late ’40s, the ’50s and the early ’60s.
    I loved my neighborhood. It was composed at the time I grew up of a diversified population, just as a neighborhood should be composed. We had a few business owners, some who were financially well off, and poor people, although most were of the blue-collar working class. We had elderly, middle-aged, young
    families. We were city folk, immigrants [mostly Italians and Greeks] and country people like my family. Unfortunately, we had no Blacks except for those families who lived in the margins, along the railroads. I was a newspaper delivery boy for five years. I write about those times when I was deeply affected by the Jim Crow culture and then, through the positive teaching of a young couple on my paper route, began an evolution out of racism. I tell that story in my memoir, The Newspaper Boy: Coming of Age in Birmingham, Alabama During the Civil Rights Era.

    I hope you will remember me to your husband, Rev. Tom Wilder, with whom I’ve visited on several occasions.

    Thank you, Maury Shevin, for mentioning me and my book and my connection to Norwood.

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