Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rural Leaders Honored: a HAC Tradition Continues

By David R. Dangler, director
NeighborWorks Rural Initiative

Every other year the Housing Assistance Council, or HAC as it is commonly known, presents a series of national awards to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the quality of life in rural communities.

Two awards given this year were the Skip Jason Community Service Award and the Cochran/Collings Award for Distinguished Service in Housing for the Rural Poor. According to HAC’s web site, The Skip Jason Community Service Award acknowledges people who work "in the trenches" and usually go unrecognized outside their communities. The second award, the Cochran/Collings Award for Distinguished Service in Housing for the Rural Poor, honors individuals who have provided outstanding and enduring service, with national impact, for the betterment of housing conditions for the rural poor.

This year, two NeighborWorks network leaders were called to the dais during a packed award ceremony. Al Gold, the long time executive director of affiliate Community Resources and Housing Development Corporation  in Colorado, and Owynne Gardner, T&MA regional manager of affiliate Little Dixie Community Action Agency in Oklahoma, each won Skip Jason awards.
Owynne Gardner of Little Dixie Community Action Agency

This honor is not the first one for our network. In 1983, the first Skip Jason award was presented to Rose Garcia, executive director of Tierra del Sol in Anthony, New Mexico.  In that same year, the Clay Cochran award went to Elizabeth Herring, co-founder of NCALL Research.  Later, both Tierra del Sol and NCALL Research became chartered NeighborWorks organizations.

Over the years, the association between the NeighborWorks network and HAC’s national awards has continued to grow stronger. Winners of the Cochran/Collings Award include NeighborWorks America's current CEO Eileen Fitzgerald (2000), and many people employed at NeighborWorks affiliates, such as Peter Carey of Self Help Enterprises (2002) and Tom Carew of FAHE (2010). Skip Jason award winners include affiliate staff as well: Steve Mainster, formerly of Centro Campesino (1996), Jack Rivel of FAHE (2004), Lorna Bourg of Southern Mutual Help Association (2006) and Steve Kirk of Rural Neighborhoods Inc. (2006).

Al Gold (center) of Community Resources and Housing Development
Corporation  with Moises Losa (left), HAC's executive director,
and Representative Bennie Thompson (right)
NeighborWorks America has reason to be proud of each and every rural leader associated with the network, and we congratulate Al and Owynne for their recent accomplishments. We also tip our hats to our friends at the Housing Assistance Council who, as Eileen Fitzgerald pointed out during the awards ceremony, have been there for our rural communities since 1971. So much of rural community development work is done without fanfare, known mainly to those whose lives have been improved.  Thanks to HAC, every two years we get to honor a few of our peers and glimpse the bigger picture, a strong and diverse family of networks and individuals working to strengthen communities and improve lives.   

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Umpqua Local Goods: A Unique Approach to Community Development

This post comes to us from affiliate NeighborWorks Umpqua in Oregon. Leave a comment if your organization is promoting local shopping this holiday season!

By Anna Jen
Microenterprise Development
AmeriCorps VISTA at 
NeighborWorks Umpqua
Umpqua Local Goods in Roseburg, Oregon, is a groundbreaking new project aimed at revitalizing community and small business simultaneously. The project, made possible by a partnership between Phoenix Charter School and NeighborWorks Umpqua, takes a multifaceted approach to community development through its retail learning environment, retail space for vendors and commercial kitchen.

A century ago, Roseburg, Oregon, was a bustling country town in the heart of the beautiful Umpqua Valley. For visitors, the Grand Hotel was the place to stay. The 116 rooms featured hot and cold water, steam heat, and phones, all cutting edge in those days. This building was a focal point of Roseburg’s post World War II economy. Over the years, the hotel went through many renovations to accommodate its changing tenants, including a speak-easy card room in the basement during prohibition. After a fire, however, the building remained unoccupied for decades, until NeighborWorks Umpqua purchased it and began a mass renovation in 2002. Today, the building provides 37 apartment units for low-to-moderate-income individuals and families and four commercial spaces for small businesses.

In September 2012, Umpqua Local Goods opened its doors on the bottom floor of the Grand Hotel. With more space (it was previously housed just down the street), the store has been able to accommodate dozens more vendors. Stop by and you’ll find all sorts of unique items made by talented local artisans – from beautiful earrings and stone pendants to scented soaps made with Oregon rainwater, fresh produce, hand-carved wooden cars and airplanes, mouthwatering toffee and much more.

Students from Phoenix Charter School’s Retail Learning Program spend a few afternoons a week at the store to learn valuable job skills such as resume building, interview preparation, working with vendors, and pricing products. “The program creates lots of potential for students,” says Karry Johnson, store manager. “It helps them develop goals, open their minds, and think for themselves.” The program is not just for Phoenix students, but is open to the public; anyone who is looking to gain new skills and experience.

Attached to the store is a licensed commercial kitchen. Stocked with basic restaurant equipment, it provides the perfect work space for food professionals and entrepreneurs. Dana, a Douglas County resident, currently rents the kitchen four days a week and whips up delicious goodies, such as pies, cookies, granola, and brownies, which she sells in the store.

Even in the early stages of operation, Umpqua Local Goods is becoming well-known in the community. It’s initiatives like this that are investing in the local economy, building strong small businesses, and creating future leaders. For more information, please visit or drop by 733 Cass Street to shop local!

Friday, December 14, 2012

NeighborWorks America Announces that the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program Has Served 1.5 Million Homeowners

1.5 million homeowners have received foreclosure prevention counseling by local nonprofits, national intermediaries and state housing finance agencies participating in the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) program administered by NeighborWorks America, one of the nation’s largest community development corporations. The latest report on the NFMC program also found the program has helped save local governments, lenders, and homeowners approximately $920 million.

Watch this inspirational video about the compassionate NFMC-backed foreclosure counselors who are making a difference in the lives of individuals and families.


Also notable in the report, NFMC clients who received a mortgage modification lowered their monthly mortgage payment, on average, $176 more per month than non-NFMC clients which represents $372 million in annual savings to NFMC-counseled homeowners. With more fixed-rate mortgages and lower interest rates, mortgage terms are becoming more favorable for homeowners. The percentage of clients that reported having fixed-rate mortgages with interest rates at or below 8 percent increased from 30 percent in October 2008 to 57 percent in August 2012. Nearly 69 percent of NFMC program clients report holding fixed-rate mortgages.

Jane Sokolowski Receives
Counselor of the Year Award
from Chuck
NeighborWorks America COO
On December 13 NeighborWorks America and the NFMC program sponsored the inaugural NeighborWorks National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) Program Counselor Awards, which recognize the contributions of counselors whose tireless efforts help homeowners maintain homeownership and transition to suitable housing. The winners are the following: Jane Sokolowski - Catholic Charities (NY) for the Counselor of the Year Award; Betsy Carvajal - CredAbility (GA) for the Excellence in Counseling Award; Ali Tarzi - Community HousingWorks (CA) for the Excellence in Outreach & Professional Development Award; Amanda Diaz and Diego Tapia – Hispanic Association of Contractors and Enterprises (HACE) (PA) for the Excellence in Personal Achievement Award; and Rose Marie Roberts – Utica Neighborhood Housing Services NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center (NY) for the Counselor Perseverance Award. More information about the award winners is available here.

To view photos from the event, visit our Flickr page.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

7th Annual NeighborWorks America Northeast Region Reception: 'A Community United'

This blog comes to us from Susan Jouard, Public Affairs and Communications Advisor for NeighborWorks America's Northeast Region.

NeighborWorks America Northeast Region held its seventh annual reception on November 29. This signature event brought leaders from throughout the housing and community development field together to honor “Visionary Leaders in Community Development” under the theme of “A Community United”.

Tina Brooks, Eileen Fitzgerald, Alfred DelliBovi,
Denise Scott, Deborah Boatright, Rev. DeForest Soaries
Over 200 people joined NeighborWorks CEO Eileen Fitzgerald and Regional Director Deborah Boatright as Alfred A. DelliBovi, president & CEO of Federal Home Loan Bank of New York and Denise Scott, managing director of LISC NYC were honored. Citi Community Development hosted the event at their mid-Manhattan headquarters.

Guests included representatives from 23 of the region’s NeighborWorks organizations, who view the annual reception as an invaluable opportunity to network with key partners, funders and colleagues. NeighborWorks’ national office was well-represented by Chuck Wehrwein, COO, Robert Burns, the outgoing director of Field Operations and who received a special recognition at the event, Paul Kealey, director of Training, Jayna Bower, director, NCHEC; Christine McHenry, director, Public Relations and the NeighborWorks development team: Jeanne Wardford, Akilah Watkins-Butler and Jennifer McAllister.

VIPs included two presidents from the NYS Department of Homes and Community Renewal, Mathew Nelson and Marian Zucker, Commissioner Mathew Wambua, NYC Dept. of Housing and Preservation, Marc Jahr, president & CEO, NYC Housing Development Corporation, Bob Annibale, global director, Citi Community Development, Pam Flaherty, president & CEO Citi Foundation, Michael Rubinger, CEO, LISC and Katheryn Wylde, president, Partnership for New York City. The region was especially pleased to welcome several guests from the Philadelphia area where the region has been doing extensive partnership work.

Super Storm Sandy was on many people’s mind, coming just a month before the reception.
“A lot of the conversations in the room are about the impact of the storm, and how we can support each other. Connections are being made, and new collaborations are taking shape,” said Boatright in her remarks. “I am so proud of all of us here—the non-profits, government, financial institutions, national intermediaries, funders and partners. Everyone is stepping up to help families rebuild and neighborhoods rebound.”

These sentiments were echoed by Eileen Fitzgerald: “NeighborWorks America is committed to working with our affiliates and partners to help in the Sandy recovery effort. Together, we will continue on the path to recovery in the next few weeks and months”.

But the evening belonged to the two widely admired visionary leaders in community development, Alfred DelliBovi and Denise Scott.

DelliBovi, who has served at the helm of the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York (FHLBNY) for 20 years, is a nationally recognized authority on banking, the lending industry, housing and public finance, and a champion of sustainable homeownership for low and moderate income families. In 2012, the bank awarded $70 million in grants to help build or preserve 5,500 affordable homes and 5,000 affordable rentals; and closed 680 loans for members of the First Home Loan Club.

DelliBovi was introduced by New Jersey’s the Reverend DeForest Soaries, Jr., a member of the FHLBNY’s board of directors and a close partner of NeighborWorks, who spoke about DelliBovi’s business acumen and deep sense of social justice.

In accepting the award, DelliBovi said: “It is more than an honor to work with NeighborWorks America and its leadership -- Deborah Boatright and Eileen Fitzgerald. Thank you for bestowing on me NeighorWorks’ Visionary Leader Award.  I accept this award not as an individual, but as a member of the New York Home Loan Bank team. A team that works every day with our member community lenders to enhance the value of that fundamental element of our culture and society: the home.”

Denise Scott, managing director of LISC New York City, was celebrated as a “go-to” person whenever there is a new challenge facing New York’s neighborhoods. She successfully raises millions of dollars every year in equity and loan capital in support of affordable housing and community and economic development projects.

“One would be hard pressed to find a more, trusted, respected and beloved community developer in New York City than Denise Scott,” said Boatright.

Tina Brooks, executive vice president of LISC, was on hand to help present the award to Scott, talked about her exceptional ability to create private and public partnerships that is admired throughout LISC, and that has been a hallmark of her 30-year career in the field.

Guests lingered long after the two hour reception ended, with more than one guest noting how it always seemed too short because they were so many people to talk to– truly a hallmark of success!

“We started the reception with the goal of bringing the full spectrum of the housing and community development field closer together. Thanks to the generous support of our sponsors every year, there have been no barriers to attendance, and the focus has always been on the building of new relationships in a collegial atmosphere, and the honoring of our heroes,” said Boatright.

To view photos of the 7th Annual Northeast Region Reception, visit our Flickr album at

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Recovering from Hurricane Sandy

This blog comes to us from Donna Blaze, CEO of our affiliate Affordable Housing Alliance in Eatontown New Jersey. We thank her for making time out of her extremely busy schedule to share updates on what’s happening in her community post Hurricane Sandy. 

By Donna Blaze
Affordable Housing Alliance, CEO

Monmouth County, New Jersey, is a seaside region and when Hurricane Sandy struck on October 29, it hit hard.  More than15,000 residents in this community have been personally affected by the disaster. Some of their homes have been blown out to sea, while others were in 8 to 12 feet of water and now uninhabitable.  Making things worse, many local restaurants and businesses catering to tourists have had the same catastrophic losses, leaving some both without a home and job.
A boarded-up home in Monmouth County

My nonprofit, Affordable Housing Alliance, had a full plate prior to the storm. We were in the midst of expanding to two offices, constructing five affordable housing developments, and administering a county-wide utility program.  Now, however, we feel obligated to take on more. After all, these storm victims are our friends, our neighbors and our clients.

One of the biggest challenges right now is a lack of temporary housing within the county. Available homes are located in places like Atlantic City – more than an hour away in some cases. For people who have lost cars or who rely on public transportation, this means added stress and time in their daily commutes.
A beachfront home, devastated by the storm
 Unfortunately, this is just one component of what people are struggling with. Many have lost important mortgage and identification documents, complicating their ability to get help. Even those who are lucky enough to have papers and insurance must deal with the absence of family mementos – a baby footprint, a letter from grandma -- many of those little things that make up who you are.

Last week I took NeighborWorks America’s CEO Eileen Fitzgerald and COO Chuck Wehrwein to see what’s happening here. I introduced them to the residents at Union Beach Disaster Recovery Center, which is a combination of local volunteer efforts and FEMA  disaster center.
Chuck Wehrwein and Eileen Fitzgerald
talking to Union Beach center volunteer

I also took Chuck and Eileen to sites where we hope temporary housing can be made available. Fort Monmouth, an abandoned military site, has 600 potential temporary housing units. We had been considering moving our office to this location prior to the storm, and its size and current vacancy make it an appealing prospect. Another location is a manufactured home park with an estimated 16 spaces available. This could be converted quickly to either temporary or permanent (rent-to-own) housing.

Cards sent from schoolchildren in Virginia decorate
the walls of the Union Beach Disaster Recovery Center
Our current focus is to help people understand what options are available to them and to help them make the right decisions. Sometimes we don’t know the answer, but we are working to find out. We appreciate the tremendous outpouring of support and the $100,000 grant from NeighborWorks America. We also appreciate the chance to learn from cities that have suffered similar disasters. For example, Bill Stallworth, executive director of NeighborWorks affiliate Hope CDA, offered good recovery advice based on his experiences in post-Katrina Biloxi, Mississippi. 

It is by sharing our knowledge and our resources that we can return our residents to homes and to the communities they remember before the storm in a more timely way.  

Note: NeighborWorks America recently made grants to organizations affected by Hurricane Sandy, including,  Affordable Housing Alliance ($100,000), Asian Americans for Equality ($50,000), Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City ($50,000), Community Development Corporation of Long Island ($20,000), NeighborWorks New Horizons ($20,000) and Brand New Day ($10,000). Typically NeighborWorks America grants to organizations serving this area have generated more than $50 in direct local investment for every grant dollar awarded, which would amount to more than $12.5 million in this case.

Friday, November 30, 2012

What Does Quality of Life Mean to a Neighborhood?

This entry is reposted, with permission, from our Kansas City affiliate Community Housing of Wyandotte County's blog:

Youth volunteers participating in our Community
Alley Restoration (C.A.R) program.
It can mean everything or it can mean nothing depending on who has defined what it means for your neighborhood. If you ask your neighbors what they want they will undoubtedly produce a list of things – like better sidewalks and curbs, faster police and fire response, less vandalism and fewer stray dogs and feral cats. Others want coffee shops, retail stores, bike trails, community gardens, or entertainment and recreational centers, even wireless Internet. It's true these things can make life in the neighborhood more enjoyable, more convenient and even healthier but what these things really do is create a sense of place.

A place where people can gather, can meet, share ideas and get to know one another. These environments are essential for our socialization. In urban neighborhoods many of the things that used to bring us together – like downtown shopping districts, neighborhood schools, mom and pop stores, park and recreational centers have been shut down, moved on or are under funded. Citizens have to deal with aging infrastructure, higher taxes and now bear the responsibility of maintaining alleyways, sidewalks and curbs or bringing their 100 year old homes into code compliance of new home standards.

Quality of life means a lot of things. It involves almost everything that influences a neighborhood from government regulations and ordinances, variety of housing stock, ratio of rental property to home ownership, household incomes, type of schools, cultural diversity, park services, youth programs, leadership and resident accountability. If you don’t have the recipe – that can be a tough cake to bake.

Freshly painted bike lanes in Wichita, Kansas
New plants being installed during Arbor Day
at Waterway Park in Kansas City, Kansas

Unfortunately, there isn’t a recipe that fits every neighborhood or maybe any neighborhood. You can have meetings and sounding sessions that may help exposure the most pressing issues, concerns or trends but any long term solutions come from neighbors getting to know one another. Developing lines of communication and trust with government, civic organizations and surrounding neighborhoods. It comes from creating a common sense of purpose about why we live here and why it is important that we learn to work together toward common goals. Its about believing in who we are and that what we do matters. 

Creating those gathering places is the first step in moving those types of conversations from small groups on our front porches to engaging the greater community. Sharing our ideas and cultures. Developing trust and friendships. Working on projects together, engaging our youth and our government and finding ways we can work together to make our communities better.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Community Giving on Thanksgiving

By Brittany Hutson
Fellow, Public Relations

During this season of giving and sharing, NeighborWorks organizations are helping individuals and families with the necessities they need to enjoy the holidays. Below are a few of the many great projects that our network is organizing around the country:

New York
Completed food bags

For over a decade, the Community Development Corporation of Long Island (CDC Long Island) has organized a holiday basket drive to support low-to-moderate income families in Nassau and Suffolk counties. In the past, the drive has been a volunteer effort by CDC Long Island staff members, who also contributed money toward creating the baskets. This year, CDC Long Island, with assistance from Freddie Mac and Capital One Foundation, kicked up their outreach and fundraising efforts to support families that were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. As a result, 80 families—a majority of whom are single mothers from the Family Self-Sufficiency Program—will receive a food basket with items including hot chocolate, yams, bread, canned goods, and a gift card to purchase a turkey.


Since 2009, Little Dixie Community Action Agency and International Paper — a multinational paper company — have partnered to provide “Thanksgiving-themed” food baskets to low-income families in the Choctaw, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties. This year, 14 families received food baskets with turkey, vegetables, breads, pie, bread stuffing ingredients, and more to prepare a delicious Thanksgiving meal.


Residents of Friendship Village Apartments in Virginia Beach, Virginia, got a surprise when Community Housing Partners and music industry executive and owner of N.A.R.S. records, Floyd “Danja” Hills, teamed up to assemble and deliver boxes of food. Hills, along with his N.A.R.S. Records colleague Tommy “King-T” Eaton and members from Advocate’s Gift of Life Ministries (which is led by Danja’s father Right Reverend Dr. Floyd Hills), distributed meals of turkey, stuffing, yams, collard greens, cranberry sauce, and rolls for more than 100 residents. The 109-unit in Friendship Village is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 8 multi-family property rented to low-income individuals and is owned and managed by Community Housing Partners. Hills, a former resident of Friendship Village, said he was concerned about families trying to make ends meet during these difficult economic times and wanted to make a positive difference in the community he once called home.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Home for the Holidays

By Sonja Kalyani,
Homewise Marketing Associate
This Thanksgiving, Marvin, Sheila and their two children will be feasting with family and friends in a new home that Marvin built with his own hands.  Natalia, eight, and Diego, four, sit quietly munching on giant chocolate chip cookies as their parents explain why they purchased their new house through Homewise, a NeighborWorks member organization in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Marvin has worked for Platinum Sky Construction for three years, and he helped frame the homes at Rincon del Sol, the Homewise subdivision in Tierra Contenta on the southside of Santa Fe, where the family is now settling in. “It’s the materials,” Marvin explains, when asked why they only looked at Homewise Homes™. “And, how well they’re built.” After all, when you’re part of the crew that builds a home, you know where the weaknesses are — or, in this case, where they aren’t.

Marvin first heard about Homewise through his employer, and the family has been so pleased with the support they received that they’ve recommended it to their friends.

“You [Homewise] take people by the hand to understand what a home purchase involves, what a closing is, what we need to do to achieve the steps to buy the house,” says Sheila. For them, this meant attending the Home Buyer Education class, saving money, and working on their credit over the course of a year and a half.

Marvin, Sheila, Natalia and Diego outside their new home
Their relaxed demeanor and smiles confirm they’re happy with their purchase decision. “Once we were ready, it happened quickly. From the time we decided on the home we wanted to purchase to the closing date was two to three weeks. Everything was explained so well and it all went smoothly.”

Prior to moving in, Marvin and Sheila lived with their family in a mobile home, but, surprisingly, the extra space isn’t the first thing they mention when asked about what they like about their new home. Instead, they mention the energy efficiency. In fact, Sheila lights up as she talks. “We turn on the tap and the water is already warm. We don’t have to let it run to heat up. We’re saving so much water.” Since Marvin is the primary breadwinner, seeing their water bill drop by $30 a month is no small thing for this family.

All in all, their new home is working out well for them. The extra space, additional income and pride of ownership are sure to make this a special holiday season.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is Now the Time to Buy? Homeownership Re-examined

Marietta Rodriguez
By Marietta Rodriguez
director, National
Programs & Lending
The boom and bust of the housing industry in recent years has fueled doubt about the value of homeownership and caused many to re-examine the long-held belief that homeownership is a viable path to a stable and successful financial future.

In a recent report, our network member, Homewise, makes a strong argument that homeownership is still a smart choice, and that current market conditions offer an unprecedented opportunity for Americans to advance to economic ladder. According to their research, the typical homeowner purchasing a $200,000 home today, will amass nearly $500,000 dollars more than a renter over a 30 year period. Homeownership also provides important non-economic benefits, like stability and security, which are important for personal happiness, child development and family unity.

At NeighborWorks America, we support homeownership as a goal for many families. Homeowners typically stay longer in one location and contribute to lasting neighborhood improvements which support higher property values. Homeownership also builds both confidence and long term wealth for families of all backgrounds. For many low- and moderate-income homeowners, a house is their primary financial investment, which is critical when they need to take out loans for their children’s education or to start businesses.  Currently, interest rates are at historic lows and there is far more affordable inventory on the market, even in high priced markets like Santa Fe, New Mexico, making this an ideal time to buy for those who are ready.

However, for the benefits of homeownership to be fully realized, the purchase must be sustainable and must be a good fit for the personal and financial needs of the buyer. The buyer’s stage of life must also be considered. For example, younger buyers must weigh the financial advantages of homeownership against the risks of needing to quickly relocate to pursue a job opportunity.

To help individuals understand which option is right for them, NeighborWorks America has dedicated substantial resources to training a network of HUD-certified counseling agencies and to establishing a network of NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Centers throughout the country. Every day the NeighborWorks Network members provide people across this country with services ranging from financial education to individualized homeownership counseling in preparation for making an informed homeownership decision. The homeownership counselors help customers decide what next steps are best for them and their long term happiness and prosperity  sometimes this is a new house and sometimes it is finding an affordable rental or repairing credit.

My hope is that the economic crisis will leave us understanding the importance of a middle ground for homeownership. It is neither a fast track to wealth that some imagined during the boom years nor is it the folly its critics claimed after the foreclosure crisis had begun. Homeownership is an individual choice that when pursued with eyes wide open and focused on personal and financial goals could be the basis of a great future.

To read Homewise’s recent reports on homeownership, click here.
To find a homeownership counselor, visit

Friday, November 9, 2012

Serving Our Nation’s Veterans

By Brittany Hutson, NeighborWorks America public relations fellow

Ronald, U.S. Army, and his wife, Denise
Every day NeighborWorks organizations across the country salute our nation’s military veterans by offering them the housing and additional services they need to live in affordable homes and take part in strong, vibrant communities. One of those organizations is the Primavera Foundation (Primavera) in Tucson, Arizona. Primavera, which assists individuals and families out of poverty and homelessness, offers veterans housing support and temporary financial assistance through the Project Action for Veterans program (Project Action).

Project Action is supported
Jac’Queline, U.S. Army
by grants from the Veterans Affairs’ Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program and it’s a collaboration between Primavera and two local nonprofits – Old Pueblo Community Services and Esperanza en Escalante. Tammie Brown, manager of Project Action, says that in fiscal year 2011 Primavera served nearly 500 veterans through their transition out of homelessness. The veterans’ transition was supplemented by job seeking and training services, temporary financial assistance, and financial education. Primavera assists veterans of all ages with a large concentration ranging in the 35 to 61 age group. Brown says Project Action is expecting to work with younger veterans in the upcoming months as they return home from Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2011, Primavera served 29 veterans of these conflicts.

John, U.S. Navy
Primavera is also committed to supporting veterans who are homeless or facing eviction. This is important for the nearby Pima County, Arizona, where one of every 145 residents is homeless, many of them veterans.  Primavera’s approach is to seek long term solutions to the underlying causes of homelessness. Project Action participants are assessed to identify the causes of their homelessness, and then Primavera provides an individualized support program to help participants overcome those barriers. “We find that unemployment seems to be the biggest barrier,” says Brown. “In Pima County, employment is very scarce if you don’t have the job skills to tap into the military, healthcare, aviation or university industries. We sent some vets to truck driver training school and paid for another to receive airline inspection training.” Once the individualized support program is created, the veterans work with a Primavera case manager for up to five months. In the interim, the program offers short term and temporary financial assistance for needs such as rental payments, rental deposits, and utility payments.

Just as our veterans worked tirelessly and selflessly to defend our country, NeighborWorks organizations are dedicated to ensuring that our veterans are supported when they return home.

How are you helping veterans in your community? Post a response below or contact us via Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Training to Change the World

By Sara Varela, Community Building and Organizing program

October 25 to the 28 marked not only NeighborWorks Community Leadership Institute (CLI) in Orlando, Florida, but also my nine year old’s birthday, Hurricane Sandy passing through the East Coast, the closing on my house and much more. So needless to say, things have been crazy recently. However, it's worth stopping to reflect on the great things that came out of the CLI and why it matters.

The CLI is an annual gathering of 110 different resident volunteer teams from across the country. NeighborWorks America holds the event because we believe that residents are in the best position to make substantial positive impact in their communities, and that their impact will be even greater if these leaders are trained in best practices and can learn from the experiences of others.

Attendees are part of teams, each comprised of six to eight people who live nearby and come together to address a specific problem. During the CLI, team members participate in top-notch trainings with some of the best instructors in the country. Teams who submit an Action Plan to NeighborWorks America receive a $2,000 seed grant to help them leverage local resources and see their plans turn into reality.

These plans lead to great community projects, like the Sabor del Northside community festival in Houston, Texas, where schools, businesses, artists, community organizations, and residents came together to put on an event attended by more than 1000 people. Other CLI-related projects have included a cross-state safe prescription drug disposal program, a safety awareness fair, community gardens and youth leadership programs.

The CLI supports these community enhancement projects by providing a contagious, positive and invigorating experience for attendees that helps them to go from concept to completion. The CLI instructors are not what you might expect from a big corporate training event. Each of them was passionate about their work, so much so that their energy radiated from every classroom. They have taught me important skills, but most importantly, they have inspired me as have many of the participants who strive for greatness, to overcome obstacles and to expect positive change when communities join forces to solve their problems.

Dorothy Richardson mural from the Orlando
Neighborhood Improvement Corporation
The CLI is also the time where we honor the Dorothy Richardson Resident Leadership recipients, people who exemplify a spirit of service and a commitment to a better future in their communities. For profiles of these amazing people, check out There’s also a great video there with stories about what a difference resident leaders can make.

Adding to these indoor activities, the CLI had practical workshops and tours of the Orlando communities. We also had a virtual presence via Twitter (see Storify summary) and a Facebook group for participants. Using these tools, attendees could comment on their experiences, talk with others and tocapture the event from their perspective.

It is the first time I’ve see so much interaction and engagement online from so many people. The Facebook group allowed many of us to meet in person, to learn what was happening in the sessions and tours, and hopefully it will continue to capture the energy and enthusiasm of participants as they implement their action plans over the next year.
Tap Bui (center) with her team from Mary Queen of Vietnam
from New Orleans. She was my partner in one of our sessions
and it's great to keep in touch using the Facebook group.

I am really hoping we can continue to see updates, photos and videos from every single team who attended the CLI. It would be fantastic if we could keep up with the successes, road blocks and challenges of the teams as they go back to their communities.

Overall it was a tremendously successful event that reminds me why I do what I do, and which I believe can change the world, one community project at a time.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

5000 Starbucks Volunteers Help Fifth Ward CRC Make a Better Houston

By Gary Wolfe
District Director, Rocky Mountain Region

How do neighborhoods go from declining to improving? Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation (Fifth Ward CRC) has used partnerships to help turn around Houston’s Fifth Ward.  Most recently, Fifth Ward CRC partnered with Starbucks, during their Global Leadership Conference in Houston, to make a positive difference in the lives of the Fifth Ward residents.
Starbucks "Team Blue" built a playground
Starbucks "Team Blue" built a playground

In early October, more than 5,000 Starbucks employees volunteered with community members to make a tangible impact.  Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said to KHOU 11 News “When I walked through the Fifth Ward and saw the conditions of the houses and really the people in need, I just thought this is where we need to be.”

In the Fifth Ward, the day began when the thousands of Starbucks volunteers took a bus from their downtown hotels to staging grounds at local churches. There, they ate lunch, learned about the Fifth Ward neighborhood and grabbed the tools they needed to paint homes, install pocket parks and community gardens, clean up vacant lots, put up community artwork and the like. Fifth Ward CRC projects focused on the Lyon’s Avenue Corridor, a 22 block area which encompasses the community’s “main street” and comprised of residential, commercial and public spaces with a unique blend of historical markers reflective of the community’s native sons and daughters. 

In total, more than 9,000 Starbucks employees who attended the Global Leadership Conference participated in volunteer projects across Houston. On average, the Starbucks employees volunteered between four and six hours at each project for an impressive total of more than 42,000 hours of community service over the three days of the conference.
Lyons Avenue Renaissance sign with numerous partners listed
Lyons Avenue Renaissance sign with
numerous partners listed

For the Lyon’s Avenue Corridor area, the volunteering was just one piece of the ongoing revitalization work. Fifth Ward CRC is committed to a complete community renaissance, which will include not only great homes and clean streets, but also new jobs and opportunities. Michael Emerson, Chairman of the Fifth Ward CDC told KHOU 11, “This is an image for us of what Fifth Ward is going to be,” said “We’re creating an economically diverse, ethnically diverse, economically strong, new neighborhood here in Houston.” Fifth Ward CRC has formed partnerships not only with Starbucks, but also with the City of Houston, Rice University, University of Houston and the American Regional Institute of Architects to change the landscape and future of Fifth Ward. With the help of collaborations like these, Fifth Ward CRC can return to being a “neighborhood of choice.” 

To learn more about the Starbucks-Fifth Ward partnership, view this news video or click here to see more photos.

Friday, October 26, 2012

What Makes You Part of a Community?

This blog entry is reposted from the Stable Communities blog

Avenue CDC photo courtesy of
Epic Shots Photography
A three-year study by Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in 26 communities has been exploring the factors that attach residents to their communities and how community attachment plays a role in an area's economic growth and well-being. In general, the study results have shown that cities with the highest levels of attachment had the highest rate of GDP growth.

The Knight Soul of the Community (SOTC) study has studied residents' attachment to their communities — and how it's related to economic development — over 3 years, using interviews in English and Spanish with 14,000 residents.

The study analyzed 10 "domains" that were found to drive community attachment at varying levels:
  • Basic services — community infrastructure
  • Local economy
  • Safety
  • Leadership and elected officials
  • Aesthetics — physical beauty and green spaces
  • Education systems
  • Social offerings — opportunities for social interaction and citizen caring
  • Openness/welcomeness — how welcoming the community is to different people
  • Civic involvement — residents’ commitment to their community through voting or volunteerism
  • Social capital — social networks between residents

The SOTC site has results by community, a video gallery. Of special interest to community organizers and others working in their community include reports, videos and data that can be downloaded and shared. A Twitter feed provides a place to share experiences (with hashtag #SOTC).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What Are Reverse Mortgages Anyway?

This article was jointly produced by the NeighborWorks America National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling team and the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program team.

We hear a lot about reverse mortgages in the media, but there is a good deal of confusion about what they are and how they work. To begin with, many people refer to “reverse mortgages” in general, when they really mean to speak about those loans offered specifically by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). This post focuses on these FHA reverse mortgages, also called home equity conversion mortgages, or “HECM” loans.

The idea behind a HECM loan is that many older borrowers are house-rich, but cash poor. Imagine, for example, an elderly retired couple that has long since paid off their home, but lacks the money needed for daily expenses like medicine, gas and food. A HECM loan would allow the couple to use their home’s equity as a form of income. They would borrow against the market value of their home and get cash in return.  To pay off the loan, they or their heirs might sell their home some years in the future or repay with other means.

Advantages of a reverse mortgage include the fact that the homeowner can stay in their home and does not repay the loan until he moves or sells the property, or passes away. At that time, the borrower owes the lesser of the loan balance or the value of the property.  A HECM loan thus differs from a home equity loan in that the borrower doesn’t need to make any payments during the life of the loan. Furthermore, there are no traditional income or credit requirements. To qualify for a HECM loan, a homeowner must be at least 62 years old and own their home free and clear or be able to pay off all existing mortgage debt with HECM loan funds. The homeowner must also talk with a HUD-approved HECM counselor.

An illustration of a successful HECM loan situation might be a family where an aging father wishes to remain in his family home, but lacks savings to be able to pay for all his regular bills. Instead of having to sell his house, the father can stay where he is and continue to be around the people and places that have meant so much to him throughout his life. His children may not be able to keep the family home if the loan is not repaid, but during the father’s life, he may be able to maintain a greater degree of financial independence.

However, HECM mortgages are certainly not for everyone. One big challenge is that they encumber the borrower’s property with debt, which is not in alignment with all cultural values and may complicate or preclude the borrower’s ability to pass the home on to his or her heirs. If the borrower’s heirs are unaware of how the HECM loan works, they may be unpleasantly surprised to find a large debt owed on the property. It’s also possible that an elderly borrower might be alive, but have health issues that prevent him or her from continuing to live in the home. Should the borrower move out, say to a nursing home or to live with family, someone would need to assume responsibility for closing out the HECM loan.  Repayment options include selling the home, repaying the loan or refinancing the loan.

In recent years, some foreclosure counselors have recommended HECM loans as a way for older clients to pay off their debt and remain in place. In these cases, a borrower would take out a lump sum HECM loan, and use it to pay off the balance of their conventional mortgage debt. This would buy the borrower time, but it might not leave the borrower with any extra cash, meaning that they would still need to find a way to pay for their day-to-day living.  Another source of income would be needed — which could be a problem if, for example, the foreclosure was the result of multiple family members losing their jobs.

In all cases, homeowners considering a reverse mortgage should carefully explore whether it is the most appropriate means of achieving their financial ends.  Housing counselors help homeowners clarify their objective and whether a reverse mortgage best fits that goal.  Counselors also ensure homeowners take all fees and charges into account, walk homeowners through the rules to confirm the borrowers understand completely the unique mechanics and risks of this loan type, and help homeowners avoid scams. However, counselors are no substitute for evaluating personal values or talking to family members. Borrowers should think carefully about what choice is best for them, their family and their legacy.

For a list of HUD-approved HECM counselors, visit

HECM counselors can also visit for more information on HECM Counselor training and technical assistance available from NeighborWorks America.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Equity Express: Uniting Financial Management and Environmental Responsibility

By Karuna Mehta,
NeighborWorks America,
Green Strategies program fellow
Just in time for Energy Awareness month, we are sharing a blog about our new Equity Express class. The initiative responds to two major crises of our time – economic and ecological – by increasing the wealth of asset-poor households through consumer choices that are both financially smart and promote sustainable living.

As a young professional with a limited budget, saving money is always at the back of my mind.  While I’ve tried to abide by the same “save, save, and save some more” mentality as my parents, in today’s world it’s easier said than done. Many of NeighborWorks homeownership and financial fitness counselors encounter similar experiences counseling low- and middle-income clients who are hoping to buy homes or simply get out of debt. For most of us, it doesn’t seem possible to save money by committing to living a more sustainable, healthy lifestyle. 

However, hope is not lost on being both "green" and financially savvy. This summer, homeownership and financial fitness counselors from all over Ohio came together to learn how living a healthy, sustainable lifestyle can also help you save some green. The two-day train-the-trainer workshop, hosted in partnership with the Center of Neighborhood Technology, is called “Equity Express” and describes opportunities to save money in nearly every facet of our lives while improving our health and lessening our environmental impact. The workshop introduces counselors to an alternative way of teaching financial education and provides them with resources and materials so they can incorporate sustainable ideas and green living into their own curricula.

Creative Commons image
Equity Express emphasizes the importance of monitoring six areas: budgeting, energy, transportation, food, communications and “green lifestyle,” which focuses on how much “stuff” we consume and buy and how we dispose of it. The materials taught in each workshop are tailored to analyze the trends and events that are occurring in that region—for example, counselors from Cleveland received “Cleveland-specific” information while those from Cincinnati learned about the health and environmental impact in their own metro area.

While some topics, like those revolving around consumption and budgeting, were already common in a number of the counselor’s own curricula, participants also learned about managing energy costs through reducing wasted energy. They began assessing where transportation alternatives such as walking and biking fit into their lives, and reassessed how their affinities for certain kinds of food would impact their health and bank accounts in the long run.

Using resources provided by Equity Express, many of the counselors discovered large potential savings for themselves. Class participants were shocked when they took a look at their own utility bills and calculated the nutritious values (or lack thereof) of their favorite foods. Some even called their children and spouses during break to share the information they'd just learned.

Class participants with their certificates of completion
The workshop also gave as an opportunity to take a look around the office of Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) in Ravenna, Ohio, where the workshop was held. The executive director and his staff have committed to greening their organization, including taking out unnecessary lighting, enforcing recycling and limiting the amount of waste they produce.  NDS board members and staff have iPads to limit the amount of paper they use and their commitment to environmental conservation is inspirational. Not only is the staff creating sustainable housing, but they are “walking the talk” when it comes to their own daily lives, creating a more durable, healthy and inspired workplace for themselves.
At the Equity Express workshop, counselors realized the first step in teaching about a low-cost, sustainable life was living by these principles ourselves. We set goals for kicking our addictions to things like fast food and cheap clothes and electronics. Some people vowed to cook a little more often and eat a little less meat, others re-examined the differences between wanting and needing a new smart phone or television. Still others discussed carpooling with their co-workers and pledged to think twice before buying new stuff.

Budgeting and managing expenses is crucial for those who seek financial counseling or help with homeownership, and resource efficiency is also critical to "going green." Sustainable living improves long term and short term health, creates a more durable living environment and helps people save money in the long run, making it an incredible tool for promoting money management as well as equity. Financial workshops such as Equity Express incorporate the importance of sustainable and socially responsible living empower clients and inspire local and global action through simple changes in one's daily routine.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On the Ground Before and After Hurricane Isaac

NeighborWorks America has made significant investments in the Gulf region to help rebuild post-disasters, and this includes those areas like New Orleans which were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. For an inside perspective on the impact of the recent Hurricane Isaac, we contacted James Ross, a NeighborWorks America employee on the ground in New Orleans. 

By James Ross
Management Consultant, Southern District

Hurricane Isaac, image courtesy
of NASA Goddard, Creative Commons
Hurricane Isaac hit on late on Tuesday, August 28, 2012, almost exactly seven years after Katrina, bringing with it painful memories and panic lines in residents’ faces. At church the previous Sunday, my preacher told everyone to evacuate — and people took him seriously.  Throughout the region, everyone was rushing to stores to get batteries and fill up their cars with gas, leading to long lines and high prices at the gas stations.

My family and I decided to weather the storm at home because the stress and expense of evacuation was more than we felt was worthwhile for the predicted category 1 hurricane. True to forecasts, Isaac turned out be significantly less force than Katrina’s category 4 strength. However, Isaac was slow and stayed over New Orleans for two days, causing a large amount of flooding and power outages. The power at our home went out quickly and stayed that way for six days.  After three days in the heat and darkness, we moved to my in-laws house, in Orleans Parish because they were lucky enough to have electricity. 

All told, there was significant damage to the storm, but a much smaller loss of life than we had seven years ago. With Isaac, one of the biggest issues was a lack of power.  After Katrina, the local utility company, Entergy, started charging an extra fee which was to go toward infrastructure improvements.  While newer communities have underground power, older communities had power lines fallen in the street — and, of course, no electricity.  To protect its employees, Entergy waited until winds had calmed before sending out work crews. This angered some people who felt repairs should have been made earlier, and led to lots of finger pointing, which is typical of New Orleans.

Image of Plaquemines Parish flooding, courtesy of Creative Commons
The new levy system, installed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the wake of Katrina, held up well.  However, some areas were outside the federal levee system, and they experienced heavy flooding and damage. Plaquemines Parishwater, for example, flooded up to the rooftops and cows and horses battled the waters to survive.  Some cows even ended up in people’s homes as the animals tried to make it to higher ground and safe haven. In another flood zone, Braithwaite, two people drowned because they couldn’t get out of their homes.

As a NeighborWorks employee, I took steps before and after the storm to check in on our local allies. The Friday before we got at least two phone numbers from each of our affiliates and our partners in those areas predicted to be impacted by the storm. Later, I reached out to all our network organizations, talking via text messages and Facebook to make sure everything was ok, which people really appreciated. 

The Southern District is planning to assist organizations in impacted areas.  So far, NeighborWorks America has issued $110,000 in new grant funds to our partners impacted by Isaac in Louisiana and Mississippi. The grants will increase these organizations' capacity to coordinate outreach and volunteer efforts in their targeted communities.  A full list of the recipient groups is below:

United Houma Nation: ($35,000) United Houma Nation’s area of concentration includes lower Jefferson, Terrebonne & Plaquemines parishes which includes the cities of Braithwaite, Houma and Lafitte which all experienced significant damage and home loss due to the floods. In Houma, the United Houma Nation, a Louisiana state recognized Native American tribe, estimates a total of 3,300 tribal citizens were directly impacted by Hurricane Isaac. This represents 25 percent of the total population of tribal citizens residing within the UHN service area.

Hope Community Development Agency: ($20,000) Hope Community Development Agency seeks to enhance its outreach to the residents/homeowners in Biloxi, Mississippi affected by the flooding along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The agency is also focusing on assisting Biloxi’s elderly population with emergency home repairs. The grant will provide needed resources to organize and execute a volunteer outreach campaign.

Hancock Housing Resource Center: ($30,000) The property damages caused by Hurricane Isaac drastically increased the demand for Hancock Housing Resource Center services. The grant will increase HHRC capacity to provide home repair/minor rehab project for residents of hard hit areas of Bay St. Louis and Waveland.

Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans: ($25,000) There was massive flooding on the north shore, including the city of Covington. Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans is providing services to this community.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Exceeding Expectations: Matt Huerta and NHS of Silicon Valley

In honor of Hispanic Heritage month, the NeighborWorks America blog is profiling Matt Huerta, one of the many accomplished Hispanic leaders in our network of affordable housing and community development nonprofits. Huerta is executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Silicon Valley (NHSSV), a position he attained at the young age of 32. This interview was conducted by Alexandra Chaikin, online media project manager at NeighborWorks America.

Matt Huerta
What is your background and how did you get into affordable housing?

My grandfather was a bracero who came from Mexico City to the US during World War II as an agricultural laborer. He moved around a good deal, but eventually settled in Visalia, California. Eventually, he switched from working in the fields to working as a baker, enabling him to buy a home, which set the stage for a stable family life. His son, my father, married young, and started a family right after high school. To help make ends meet my parents took advantage of rental housing for several years before eventually purchasing their first home.

I was the first in my immediate family to go to a four year university. I graduated from the University of California, Davis with a Bachelor of Science in Community and Regional Development. During college, I participated in the California Coalition for Rural Housing Project (funded now, in part, by NeighborWorks). I also interned with Community Housing Opportunities Corporation, where I learned about farmworker housing, tax credits and the whole world of affordable housing and community development.  After that, I became an affordable housing advocate for life.

How did you become executive director at such an early age?

I had a good deal of prior experience before coming to NHS of Silicon Valley. In 2000, I ran for and was elected to be president of the associate students at UC Davis.  I was the first Latino ever to hold that position there. It was a challenge, but I was able to work with a large coalition of other progressive students and allies to push for greater accessibility for underrepresented students at the campus and across the UC system. I was also one of the first students to bring the issue of affordable housing to the forefront. Davis, like many other college towns, has inflated housing prices. As the primary representative for 20,000 students, I was able to participate in both local and state policy advocacy. For example, I worked on a team that amended the City of Davis’ “General Plan” to specifically target affordable student housing. This was important because 5,000-10,000 students were Pell Grant eligible, meaning there was a large number of students who needed access to affordable housing.

After college, I worked with Applied Development Economics where I wrote grants and helped cities and counties across the State access Community Development Block Grant funding.  In 2005, I became a project manager at South County Housing (a NeighborWorks Chartered Member based in Gilroy, CA) where I lead the effort to rebuild a farmworker housing community for 60-70 families and created a safe, healthy, and affordable housing development. I believe my success is because of my approach to work. I always choose the most challenging projects which has allowed me to exceed my personal expectations and those of others.
Salinas Road in Pajaro, California in 2005
photo courtesy of Matt Huerta

Salinas Road in 2006, with new farmworker housing
photo courtesy of Matt Huerta

What should readers know about Neighborhood Housing Services of Silicon Valley (NHSSV)?

NHSSV was founded in 1995 by community leaders along with the San Jose Housing Department and NeighborWorks America. Silicon Valley is renowned for its technological advances and high incomes, but not all residents have opportunities to take advantage of technology or tech jobs,.  Many people are new immigrants who have limited education, and have to work two or more lower-wage jobs to make a decent living. They don’t have access to financial resources  but dream of owning a home. The other large group of low and moderate income people in Silicon Valley are teachers, young police officers and administrative employees. They need downpayment assistance to buy a home due to the high cost of living and house prices.

NHSSV works to increase opportunities for low and moderate income families by providing homebuyer education, foreclosure prevention services, mortgage lending, and community building and organizing.  Our services are important in this area because low and moderate income buyers can not compete with the large population of all cash buyers and investors. One of the reasons we are able to offer affordable housing is because we are the only nonprofit realty in Silicon Valley and the only non-profit first mortgage provider. We work with financial institutions to access real-estate owned properties and short sales. We also act as a resource to local governments who need assistance managing their affordable for-sale inventories. If a client of ours has to go through foreclosure, we not only help that client navigate that process, but also reserve the home for other low and moderate income families rather than letting it go to the highest bidder. 

Our commitment to improving our community does not end with creating homeownership opportunities. NHSSV supports neighborhood leaders through several key initiatives including sponsoring the Neighborhood Development Training Conference at San Jose State University which serves 400 leaders with capacity building workshops each year so that they can complete their own high priority projects and programs. In partnership with neighborhood leaders, NHSSV has established the Responsible Landlords Engagement Initiative which responds to requests to help hold landlords accountable to making lasting physical and social improvements at their properties.

This is great work. What motivates you to get up in the morning?

I’m motivated by the feeling that I’m part of something bigger than myself and that every day I can see the results of my efforts. I truly believe that affordable housing development is a movement which contributes to social justice.  Now that I have a family, a wife and three young children, it’s even more important to me to work toward a brighter future for them, and for all those in our shared community.

Thank you. We’re pleased to have you as part of the NeighborWorks network.

For more on NHS of Silicon Valley, visit or connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.