Gilmer native Shenequa Miller left her hometown in 1990 after graduating from high school to attend college.
While gone since then, Miller, 47, said she had a dream months ago to revive the neighborhood where her father, the late James Charles Easley, lived for 22 years nearby Abney Park and where she spent her youth hanging out with friends.
Now living in Rowlett near Dallas, she said she visited her father’s graveside in December at Community Cemetery and stopped by his old neighborhood.
“I was devastated at how there was hardly any life,” Miller said Wednesday afternoon. “Most of the homes are gone.”
Miller noted vacant lots overgrown with weeds with a few scattered homes while she talked about her dream to revive the neighborhood with homes for purchase, not to rent.
“I’m not a Realtor,” said Miller, a professor of teacher education at Lamar University in Beaumont. “I’m not a real estate investor.”
However, she felt determined to do something after having the same dream two nights in a row.
“God showed a vision of a subdivision and said I was going to own it,” Miller said.
She said she began buying lots in April.
“I bought the first lot. I bought another one, then another one,” Miller said.
Miller, founder/CEO of SCM Integrity First Companies, said she plans to build 32 custom homes and hired Jack Jones of Gilmer to build the first house and Phil Laden of Richardson to design the homes.
Jones started construction on the first home, on Abney Street, in June and is expected to complete it in two months, Miller said. She said she will start on the second and third home as soon as the first house is sold.
Miller so far has three plans for the homes named for family members: Ava, her granddaughter; Jordan, her youngest daughter; and James, her father. The Ava plan is ranch style, Jordan has a more modern look while the James plan has a barn style design.
While she said the homes will be “affordable,” she has not set a price. Her daughter, Jasmine Hunter, is the real estate agent.
Miller said she has joined the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce, which conducted a groundbreaking ceremony for her subdivision Wednesday morning.
Chamber President Shayne Wilson, a real estate agent, praised Miller’s project because the neighborhood needs development.
“And it’s going to be a great opportunity for a lot of families to have a house,” Wilson said. “I think what Mrs. Miller is doing is awesome, and I wish we had more people like her.”
Word of Miller’s plans apparently has not reached the few neighbors. Residents at homes on Monroe and Kaufman streets said they knew nothing about the project and declined to comment this past week.
Rosa Ramirez, who has lived since December in a rental house across Abney Street from the first house under construction, reserved comment.
“It depends on how the neighborhood is going,” Ramirez said. “We never had any problems, like calling the police. It’s quiet here.”
Miller said she plans to reach out to the neighborhood, and continue to buy property and build more homes.
She said she will consider moving back to Gilmer, where her family goes back generations.
“You never know,” Miller said.