The small town of Greenwood in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, once nicknamed the “Cotton Capital of the World,” has seen its share of success, but that was a long time ago. When cotton cultivation and processing became mechanized in the early 20th century, thousands of sharecroppers and laborers lost their livelihoods. This economic struggle reverberates today; the median household income in Greenwood is just over $32,000 a year.
Like many rural towns, jobs are neither plentiful nor highly paid, leaving many families unable to do more than pay bills. Homes can fall into disrepair, especially in the flood prone Delta. That’s where USDA Rural Development (RD) and companies like the Delta Design Build Workshop (Delta DB) help.
Delta DB is a social impact design-build firm based in Greenwood that specializes in affordable housing construction and rehabilitation. In 2022, Delta DB received an RD Housing Preservation Grant (HPG) and made major repairs to 16 local homes. HPG provides funding to sponsoring agencies like Delta DB to repair housing owned or occupied by low- and very-low-income rural citizens.
Emily Roush-Elliott, a social impact architect with Delta DB said, “Greenwood is a unique place to live. It is the most socio-economically and racially divided place that I’ve ever spent time. South of the river is a largely black population, and north of the river is largely white population. That’s slowly shifting, but it’s amazingly divided, and that’s tough.”
Delta DB’s office on Main Street is part of the community, and so is Roush-Elliott. She says the racial divide impacts every aspect of life in Greenwood; local politics, jobs, schools, housing, investment. She is proud that her company focuses on nearby neighborhoods experiencing persistent poverty. She and her coworkers know these families and work to get whole neighborhoods Historic designations so their old family homes can be saved.
Roush-Elliott believes in what she does whole heartedly. “If I get asked to speak at conferences, I like to talk about how you can run a business where positive social impact is the goal before the bottom line,” she said.
Dontavius McLemore, who has been with Delta DB for six years after learning about their summer workshop from his high school principal, said he loves Delta DB’s social impact commitment and the work they do with RD’s HPG and other programs.
“These historic buildings, you want to keep them for the next generation,” he said. “Growing up, I didn’t have a stable home. For me to do this and help someone else and see the smile on their face, that’s the joy I do it for: helping my community. This is my best way of giving back.”