Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Home and Family Energy-Saving Tips for Consumers

As the days grow colder and consumers gear up for another winter, many are looking for ways to beat the season’s high monthly energy costs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average U.S. household spends about $1,900 per year on home utility bills. With so much of a consumer’s monthly income spent on energy this winter, NeighborWorks America urges consumers to reduce their utility costs by weatherizing their homes this winter.

“There are several measures that homeowners and renters can take to control, or lower, their monthly utility bills. Adding insulation, purchasing new appliances, and even making small changes in your family’s energy consumption can add up to big monthly savings this winter, and every season,” said Michelle Winters, senior manager of Green Strategies at NeighborWorks America.

As part of NeighborWorks’ commitment to go green, we are offering families these tips to reduce energy costs and increase energy efficiency.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Loan Scam Alert Campaign Reaches Millions of New York Residents With DMV Partnership

New Yorkers visiting their local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office will now be alerted to the dangers of loan modification scams through a poster campaign at DMV offices in each of New York's 62 counties. The poster, developed by the national Loan Scam Alert public awareness campaign and distributed in partnership with the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles, the NYS Consumer Protection Board and NeighborWorks America, warns homeowners of the three top signs of loan scams and directs them to loanscamalert.org and 888.995.4673 for information and assistance.

Approximately 10 million customers visit DMV offices every year, providing an unprecedented opportunity to help protect New Yorkers from falling victim to scams. Although the state’s foreclosure rate has consistently been in the middle range nationally, New York State ranks second in the number of homeowners who report being victimized by scammers.

“I am pleased that the DMV is able to assist the Consumer Protection Board in making the public more aware of potential loan modification scams,” said DMV Commissioner David J. Swarts. “It is our hope that increasing public awareness about the warning signs that a loan modification proposal may be a scam will result in fewer New Yorkers putting their homes in jeopardy.”

The NYS Consumer Protection Board, under the leadership of Chairperson and Executive Director Mindy Bockstein, has actively promoted the Loan Scam Alert campaign since it was launched a year ago, helping to bring its key messages to homeowners through a series of events, press conferences and media interviews. The Consumer Protection Board’s logo appears on each of the posters.

“The current economic climate has provided fertile ground for con artists who seek to take advantage of desperate and distressed homeowners,” said Bockstein. “That’s why we’re partnering on this campaign and eliciting help from key organizations like the Department of Motor Vehicles to alert New Yorkers to the dangers of loan modification scams. If you’re having difficulty meeting your mortgage obligations and are facing foreclosure, be mindful of the red flags and aggressive tactics that may indicate suspicious activities. We urge you to access free foreclosure counseling services instead of going to a for-pay company which may actually accelerate foreclosure by making big promises but doing little or no work, redirecting mortgage payments or taking title to your home.”

The top three signs of a loan modification scam are:

  • A company or individual asking for a fee in advance
  • A company or individual who guarantees they can modify a loan
  • A company or individual who asks that you stop paying your mortgage and pay them instead

Scammers typically charge several thousand dollars, and then do little or no work, leaving homeowners even further behind. Homeowners believe their case is being resolved and only learn from their mortgage company that no contact has been made on their behalf. By then the scammers have long disappeared.

“Knowledge is the best defense against loan modification scams,” said Deborah Boatright, northeast district director, NeighborWorks America. ”With the help of our partners at the NYS Consumer Protection Board and the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles, New Yorkers throughout the state are more aware of the dangers of scams and know where to go for free, trustworthy assistance.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Video: Youth 'Hungry' for Change

Perhaps the youth of the community are better informed than adults as demonstrated by this YouTube video “Hungry for Change.”

The video shows local teens involved with Chicago-based Umoja Student Development Corporation - a partner of NeighborWorks affiliate Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Chicago - questioning ways of changing the community’s image, and reality, as a Food Desert.

In the North Lawndale neighborhood, NHS of Chicago and the Chicago Botanic Garden established a partnership which resulted in the development of the Green Youth Farm (GYF). The GYF employs students from Manly High and North Lawndale College Prep who raise vegetables and other produce organically, which is then sold in a farmer’s market at the NHS office. Because of the market’s success produce has to be brought to the market from other Chicago Botanic Garden sites to meet the demand from neighborhood residents.

Be sure to check out this powerful "green" story from the youth of Chicago.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Scaling Up the Greening of Affordable Housing

by Michelle Winters,
Senior Manager, Green Strategies,
NeighborWorks America

We know how to build and retrofit homes to be more efficient and healthy and to have minimal impact on the environment, and NeighborWorks organizations in New York State and across the country are moving into this space rapidly as more people become aware of the benefits of green building. The affordable housing industry has both an opportunity and a responsibility to be leaders in the development and rehabilitation of green housing to secure these benefits for the families and communities that we serve.

Last week, leaders from across New York State gathered at the Syracuse Center of Excellence to develop an action agenda for scaling up the greening of affordable housing in the state. NeighborWorks America convened the event to bring together NeighborWorks network organizations, state and local policymakers, and representatives from the financial, research and consulting communities to discuss progress, opportunities, and challenges in scaling up green rehabilitation focusing on program design, finance, and workforce development. [View photos from the event.]

The Center of Excellence was a fitting host for such an event with its LEED Platinum “living laboratory” providing inspiration and an environment of creativity. Beyond the impressive elements in the building itself, the COE is notable for its vision of an Innovation Ecosystem, which supports collaborative projects focusing on clean and renewable energy, indoor environmental quality, and water resources.

Three leaders in green building from the NeighborWorks Network kicked off the event: Home HeadQuarters, Asian Americans for Equality and the Community Development Corporation of Long Island. The three organizations demonstrate the complexity of the challenge – each one representing a very different market environment. But despite the geographic and economic differences, they all share the same vision: to expand the industry’s ability to transform affordable housing from inefficient and unsustainable to green, healthy, and resilient homes for low-income and working families.

According to the EPA, the average household in the U.S. spends at least $2,000 a year on energy bills, over half of which goes to heating and cooling. For a low- or moderate-income family those bills can represent a sizeable – and increasing – component of annual income. In New York State, with a relatively old housing stock and cold climate, low-income families can pay 15 percent or more of their income on utility costs, according to NY State Division of Housing and Community Development. In one neighborhood that is the focus of a collaborative effort between Home Headquarters, Syracuse University, and the Center of Excellence, some residents were paying up to 50-75 percent of their incomes for utilities during the winter.

The New York State Weatherization Assistance Program is the one of the largest of such programs in the country, with approximately almost $70 million in grants this year to advance energy efficiency for low-income residents of both single-family and multifamily homes. And the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is known for its innovative and effective programs aimed at reducing energy consumption, promoting renewable energy, and protecting the environment through its support for financing, research, and workforce development efforts throughout the state. NeighborWorks organizations in New York partner with these agencies and others to create more affordable, healthy, and efficient homes in their communities.

Some of the other new and innovative efforts that were discussed at the Roundtable include:

New York State is taking steps to address some of the challenges faced by the industry as we attempt to take greening efforts to scale. Without better data on the performance of green buildings and retrofits, lenders are hesitant to leverage utility savings to help pay capital costs of greening. More attention needs to be paid to the management and residents’ knowledge of green operating practices to ensure that the benefits of physical improvements are achieved. And, building up a workforce with new green auditing, retrofit, and installation skills won’t help us green more housing unless the consumers of housing – homeowners and rental property owners – have the resources and motivation to drive demand for green homes. NeighborWorks America is looking forward to working with the NeighborWorks network and our industry partners on solutions to these challenges to move toward greener, healthier and more efficient homes and communities.

For more information on the opportunities and challenges, look for the full report on this Roundtable to be published in the next few weeks.

Please join us at our upcoming symposium in Los Angeles on March 2, 2011 for an in-depth discussion of the benefits of greening for families and communities.