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Affordable Homes

Before you attend school, get a job or raise a family — basic building blocks of life — you need a place to call home. It can be rented, it can be owned; it can be tiny or spacious; it can be urban, suburban or rural. No matter what form it takes, it must be safe, healthy, affordable — and stable. Assuring that this is possible for even the most vulnerable individuals and families is at the heart of the mission of NeighborWorks America and its network. What it takes to make that happen varies greatly, which is why it is so critical to work with strong nonprofits with deep roots in their communities.

Here, we highlight how our member organizations are tailoring their response to the ever-growing demand for affordable homes to the special needs of regions and households. For example, you will find proven tactics for meeting the special needs of:

  • Farmworkers (Coachella and Mutual Housing of California).
  • Veterans (NeighborWorks Southern Mass and Alamo Community Group).
  • Former prison inmates (Primavera Foundation).
  • Senior citizens and persons with disabilities (NeighborWorks Columbus, Community Housing Partners and Pathfinder).
  • The homeless (Low Income Housing Institute).

A decent, affordable home is the most basic building block of community, and from childhood on, where we live can affect our entire lives. — Peter Carey, Self-Help Enterprises (Retired)

We also offer inspiring examples of effective strategies for preventing gentrification from pushing original, lower-income residents out of their beloved neighborhoods; take a look at the case studies from HAPEC, Nuestra Communidad, Thistle Communities and NHS of New York City.

Sometimes all that's needed to make staying at home more affordable is the use of green construction and rehab to lower energy bills. Consider the stories of RUPCO, REACH Community Development, Laconia Area Community Land Trust and NeighborWorks of Western Vermont.

When a hurricane or other disaster strikes, NeighborWorks members such as CommunityWorks North Dakota, Affordable Housing Alliance and CDC of Brownsville are there to help.

For a totally different approach to affordable living arrangements, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center is a leader in "homesharing" and shares its lessons learned.

There's more, of course. Take a look.

Serving those who have served our country

The Alamo Community Group saw a growing number of veteran families facing homelessness and launched its House Our Heroes Program.

Community Building

As the old saying goes, "no man is an island." It's community that changes residents into neighbors, and neighbors into a collaborative network—cleaning up streets, repairing homes of people in need, celebrating one another's culture and partnering with police to create a safe environment for all.

We support our network members as they engage with and support the diverse residents in their neighborhoods, nurturing "community" in creative ways:

  • Involving residents at the heart of planning solutions. When a low-income housing development was slated for redevelopment, DHIC made sure tenants and other residents were integral to the process. Community Service Programs of West Alabama did the same when tornadoes swept through, necessitating massive rehab and rebuilding. Mid Central Community Action invited residents to propose their own neighborhood improvements and "pitch" them at an innovations fair. And when a light rail system was brought in, HomeSight made sure that race and social-equity perspectives were threaded throughout the discussions by placing community representatives on every committee.
  • Nurturing resident leaders. One of the best ways to assure that decision makers include resident voices is by developing residents as leaders. NeighborWorks Salt Lake adapted the very successful model employed by our Community Leadership Institute to create its own training academy. To build bridges with its growing Latino community, Neighborhood Housing Services of Southwest Wisconsin tailored a similar program just for them.

The more people who come forward to make a difference in the lives of others, the stronger the community becomes. And the better off everyone in the community is. — Tracy Hoover, Points of Light

  • Creating a feeling of security. When crime reports are high, vandalism is rampant or residents simply don't feel safe, network members like People's Self-Help Housing and NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire are forming neighborhood watch groups, partnering with the city to start community policing programs and installing better lighting.
  • Positioning themselves as "welcoming communities." Immigrants are fueling growth in many areas of the country, and organizations are helping them integrate through multi-cultural events and support for entrepreneurship. West Elmwood Housing Development Corp. launched what it calls the Sankofa World Market, and Hudson River Housing held workshops supporting diverse entrepreneurship.
  • Building it so they will come. Sometimes what people need to come together is a gathering place. Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven started a community garden, NeighborWorks Pocatello built a covered pavilion in a central park. And La Casa de Don Pedro transformed a vacant lot into a performance space.
There are so many ways to build community. These are just a few. Explore them all!

Building a community of youth leaders

In 1998, the Orlando Neighborhood Improvement Corp. recognized a need in the community: Many of the after-school programs simply didn't meet the needs of the city's at-risk youth. So the ONIC Resident Services Program sought partners to help develop alternate after-school options.

Cross-Sector Collaboration

Without a stable place to call home, it’s difficult to get a job, attend school or maintain your health. But the reverse is true as well: Without a steady source of income, good health and a solid base of education, it’s difficult to acquire a house or apartment to begin with—much less keep up the payments.

Many of our network members are partnering with a diverse array of allies to work across sectors—whether it be education, health or employment-readiness and placement—to provide residents and communities the holistic services they need to thrive.Among the case studies you’ll find here are partnerships that:

  • Support children and youth. UrbanEdge is partnering with a number of other organizations to offer a pre-K readiness program, complete with a parent-support component including literacy, exercise and nutritious meals. Nevada HAND allied with the Boys and Girls Club to build clubhouses for two of its rental communities, creating safe and fun places for children to learn and play. For older youth, NeighborWorks Great Falls joined with the area’s public schools to develop high schoolers’ marketable skills as they build homes for low-income residents. And Beyond Housing, as part of a much broader initiative with the 24 municipalities feeding the local school district, offers a matched college-savings program.

NeighborWorks organizations understand that solving an affordable housing problem also requires helping someone with health issues, job skills and financial literacy. — David Erickson, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

  • Promote better health. Creating healthy living environments is the focus of the Westside Housing Organization, which collaborates with a local hospital to scan rental homes for child health risks, and the city health department to promote lead-safe homes, urban gardening and smoke-free families. Foundation Communities chose physical and mental well-being as its theme, recruiting 18 residents as “health champions” to organize activities. To assure that fresh produce is available at affordable prices in their struggling neighborhoods, Madison Park Development Corp. included a tropical foods supermarket in its downtown project, and NeighborWorks Green Bay acquired an old military armory and is converting it into an indoor farm—producing healthy food as well as employing those without jobs.
  • Assist senior citizens to “age in community.” Cambridge Neighborhood Apartment Housing Services did the usual physical improvements with walk-in showers, no-step entrances, etc. But then it went further—reducing isolation by offering on-site health clinics, exercise classes and garden clubs. Care coordination is the focus of Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore, which embeds a social worker with five providers such as Meals on Wheels to coordinate and refer to housing and related services. HomeSource partnered with social work students from the University of Tennessee to offer care coordination as well, then convened regional and state meetings to push for more effective senior housing policies.
  • Nurture public safety through early intervention.  The residents served by The Neighborhood Developers identified public safety as their No. 1 concern, but recognized that the causes of crime were deep. One result was launch of The Hub—a weekly roundtable of public and private sector agencies that identify families in crisis and initiate immediate outreach.
  • “Make over” entire neighborhoods.  Sometimes a specific focus is needed. Other times only a comprehensive strategy will make a real impact. HAPHousing and its partners concentrated on one neighborhood called Old Hill—improving public safety, housing, parks and access to fresh, healthy food in one initiative. Neighborhood Housing Services of the Inland Empire looked across its bankrupt city, bringing together more than 20 community groups to form a “transformation collaborative.” Providence Community Housing did the same in post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans—calling its coalition the NEWCITY Neighborhood Partnership.
It’s natural to think we can do it all sometimes, but we can do almost everything so much better together.

The Farmory: Indoor farm gives a downtown neighborhood a healthy boost

Despite revitalization, a low-income area in downtown Green Bay still suffered from lingering poverty. NeighborWorks Green Bay came up with a plan to provide food, jobs and educational opportunities.

Financial Security

Paying your bills when emergency expenses occur. Saving up enough money to purchase a car. Determining whether you’re ready to buy your first home, then navigating the process. Many of life’s most stressful moments relate to money.
That’s why building financial capability among the residents we serve, along with offering affordable loans and other products, is core to the services offered by most members of our network, supported by NeighborWorks America training, grants and technical assistance. Some examples from our book:

  • Special products for special needs. Sometimes residents need an infusion of money immediately, and a payday loan is all they can access. But commercial providers charge exorbitant interest rates. So, Community Development Corp. offers an ethical alternative. Likewise, Southern Mutual Help Association stepped in when Louisiana fishermen struggled in the wake of an oil spill—distributing “honor loans,” payable at 90 percent when they are able.
  • Services tailored to populations. Little Tokyo Service Center organizes workshops for Asian-Americans, with culturally sensitive materials and simultaneous interpretation. The National Council on Agricultural Life and Labor Research Fund does the same for all new immigrants. And AHEAD partners with two elementary schools to offer financial education to first through third graders, along with evening workshops where parents join their children.

Look at where we are today as a nation; the housing 'bubble' burst, the great recession descended, and millions of people still find themselves living from paycheck to paycheck. — Rodney Brooks, The Washington Post

  • Help buying and staying in homes. Community Ventures created eHome America to allow far-flung new homebuyers to receive counseling online, and more than 185,000 have benefited to date. When foreclosures threatened to displace many residents already in their own homes, New Jersey Community Capital bought their distressed mortgages and offered them counseling and principal reduction so that some wouldn’t have to move. Puerto Rico Neighborhood Housing Services held workshops for real estate representatives and collection and loss-mitigation professionals to train them how treat underwater owners with humanity.
  • Assistance where it’s needed. Sometimes the right services and products are available, but residents just can’t find or get to them. To help, The Neighborhood Developers formed CONNECT, bringing five agencies—two nonprofits, a credit union, a community college and a career center—together in one place. NeighborWorks Alaska took its financial education on the road, visiting Native communities as remote as “the top of the world.” And Hope Enterprise Corp. took over a closing bank chain in the rural Mississippi Delta, not only keeping the facilities open but expanding their services.
Money makes the world go around, as the song goes, and we try to make it less painful—and a lot more productive.

New paradigm for a new millennium

Penquis formed MainStream Finance to serve as a community development financial institution. It offers educational and financial services to support homebuyers as well as residents who desire to start or grow a small business.

Nonprofit Excellence

To serve residents well, NeighborWorks America and its member nonprofits must operate efficiently and diversify our sources of funding in an era of tightening belts. We train and are trained, seek partnerships, pool resources, and identify many other ways to streamline and become ever more efficient and effective. Here are a few examples we feature:

  • Cost-free advertising. NeighborImpact partners with a local TV station, which allocates free broadcast time to ads that promote the organization’s services for children and families.
  • Sourcing labor creatively. When CommonBond needed compliance technicians to ensure funder requirements were met when implementing programs, it developed an internship to train and certify the locals in need of skilled employment. A win-win for both! Meanwhile, NeighborWorks Northern Pennsylvania relies heavily on volunteers drawn from an expanding network of partners—ranging from universities to hospitals to corporations.
  • Tapping into employees.  Acknowledging that millennials are a growing customer base, Neighborhood Partnership Housing Services recruited its 20-something employees to advise it on educational and marketing strategies. It also values its staff by offering the same housing counseling and down-payment assistance to them as it does to clients.

Investing in capacity is a cause that still needs champions like NeighborWorks. — William Ryan, Harvard University

  • Leveraging opportunities. When Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore was accepted into the LIFT program, which provides forgivable down-payment loans to qualified homebuyers, it used the opportunity to both improve its visibility in the entire community and expand its technological capabilities. (A case in point: The organization has implemented a database that allows everyone involved to track progress on a loan and send each other alerts.)
  • Generating revenue while serving others. Homewise is dedicated to providing affordable mortgages to residents who could not otherwise access them. However, it also needs revenue to operate. Thus, it charges small fees for mortgage origination, arranging real-estate transactions and –instead of farming it out—servicing the loans once made. Another win-win.
  • Creating scale. GROW South Dakota, NeigbhorWorks Montana and NeighborWorks Community Partners all serve as an umbrella for and provide support to smaller component organizations that had previously operated independently. Rural Neighborhoods serves as the new “owner” of a number of nonprofits serving remote areas that couldn’t keep afloat on their own. And NeighborWorks Green Bay operates a “collaborative nonprofit center’—one facility where other organizations can do business in a shared space at reduced cost.
It is critical that nonprofits serve as wise stewards of public and donor funds. NeighborWorks and its members take that responsibility seriously, as illustrated by these and other case studies in this section. 

Leveraging partnership to reach dispersed populations

How can you cost-effectively educate residents who live across a large area? The executive director of this Oregon nonprofit tells how he has partnered with local media to solve the problem.

Place-Based Investments

Place matters. Places are blocks, they are neighborhoods, they are ecosystems. They are the environments in which we live, and they require holistic, creative approaches to keep them healthy and thriving.

Members of the NeighborWorks network focus on place in many different ways. In some cases, they are out to improve entire “ecosystems”—like an area’s food-related culture. NeighborWorks Umpqua is particularly holistic, with initiatives ranging from a project to encourage backyard gardens to a coalition supporting the local seafood industry. Business and Community Lenders  of Texas is taking a different tack, taking aim at its city’s high obesity rate through an olive oil-bottling plant, farmers market and farm-to-table eatery.

Other members are concentrating on entire cities or sections of cities hit by crises. For Southwest Solutions, it’s southwest Detroit—the largest U.S. city to declare bankruptcy. For Saint Joseph’s Carpenter Society, it’s Camden, New Jersey—with a reputation for crime and poverty. For Better Family Life, its Ferguson and surrounding Missouri towns, in the news for strife between African-American residents and police. Each organization is working with residents, businesses and others to rebuild, engage and heal.

Collaboration between local nonprofits, financial institutions and housing organizations can make all the difference in the world when it comes to creating places of opportunity all over the United States. — Mel Martinez, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

And then there are others that are focusing smaller – on a block, or even a building, that can influence a much larger area. Neighborhood Housing Services of Los Angeles County built a Center for Sustainable Communities on a vacant lot, bringing together a health clinic, small-business incubator and healthy café (to name just a few of the tenants) in one place. NeigbhorWorks Rochester named its program the Healthy Blocks Initiative, offering residents incentives to improve their streets one house at a time. Three other organizations transformed buildings that were abandoned or about to be: RUPCO turned an old lace curtain mill into artist housing. Community Development Corp. of Long Island converted a movie theater into affordable apartments. And Impact Seven saved and re-opened a paper mill.

Big or small, place surely matters, and these stories show how transformational local partnerships can be.

Uniting families; empowering communities

To build up a distressed St. Louis, Better Family Life tapped residents to take on community outreach and sustainable leadership.