Monday, April 23, 2012

LEEDing the way with the Home Improvement and Energy Conservation Laboratory

Jim Paley, Executive Director of Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven
By Jim Paley, executive director,
Neighborhood Housing Services
of New Haven

The vision for NHS of New Haven’s Home Improvement and Energy Conservation Laboratory (Lab) came to us around 2004. We had been looking for a place to hold classes on homebuyer education, maintenance, and energy-conservation, and we wanted the facility to reflect the lessons being taught. The dilapidated old grocery store on 24 Hudson Street was chosen because it was close to our office and in the middle of the communities we serve.

24 Hudson Street, before and after
24 Hudson Street, from dilapidated grocery to LEED-certified Lab
Applying to the Kresge Foundation for a $175,000 Challenge Grant motivated us to think of LEED® certification for the Lab. After all, part of our organizational mission is to support sustainable building and we wanted our application to Kresge to be as competitive as possible. The rest of the story, as they say, is history. Our director of design and construction, Henry Dynia, started us off with his design skills and knowledge about technical systems and recycling opportunities; our rehabilitation specialist, Kathy Fay, kept the LEED certification process moving with her diligence, analytical and writing skills, and perseverance; and our consultant, Deb Lombard, kept us headed in the right direction with her experience, technical expertise, and familiarity with the LEED process. 

The Lab has now been awarded LEED certification at the Platinum level through the US Green Building Council, and is one of only three LEED Platinum commercial buildings under the LEED for New Construction and Substantial Rehabilitation program in Connecticut. Through this certification we achieved a standard of excellence that makes me extremely proud of my staff. We created a model facility that aligns well with the part of our mission that emphasizes energy conservation and sustainability. I couldn’t think of a better place to teach and demonstrate basic home maintenance and energy-conservation techniques to homeowners.

More information about this project is available in the April 19 press release.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

3 Ways to Avoid Loan Modification and Foreclosure Rescue Scams

Despite the housing market decline, owning a home is still a cornerstone of the American dream and a key step to building wealth. But did you know that homeowners have lost over $57 million to modification and foreclosure rescue scams since 2009?* 

With Financial Education Month upon us, it’s a perfect time to remind homeowners how to protect themselves from scammers . The Loan Modification Scam Alert campaign has successfully educated millions of Americans about the signs of scams and helped over 22,000 homeowners report scams in the Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network database.  

The trouble is that new programs like the Independent Foreclosure Review and the $25 billion national mortgage settlement, give scammers even more ways to lure vulnerable homeowners with phony promises of assistance. Need evidence?  See this recent warning from New York Attorney General Eric Schneider.  

Do your part to get the word out. Scam tactics change often, but the ways to spot a scam remain constant. Below are the top three ways to spot a scam according to Loan Modification Scam Alert. Please share this information with your partners, family and friends and via email, Facebook and Twitter.

*Original loan modification scam complaint information is compiled and housed in the national Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network Database, which is maintained by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, located in Washington D.C.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Evaluation in Action: Demonstrating Results, Measuring Impact and Informing Change in Financial Capability

By Deborah Visser and Daria Sheehan, Guest Contributors

Deborah Visser is director for Success Measures, investments and partnerships at NeighborWorks America and Daria Sheehan is senior program officer at the Citi Foundation. This post is also available on CFED's Inclusive Economy blog.

The financial capability field is always looking for better, more rigorous ways to demonstrate results of financial coaching, financial education, housing, credit counseling and asset-building efforts on the lives of individuals and families. To address this need, the Citi Foundation joined a small group of funders and practitioners to collaborate with the Success Measures program ( at NeighborWorks America to develop and field test a comprehensive set of financial capability outcome indicators and data collection instruments.

We are excited by the prospect that these new tools will make it easier for practitioners to measure changes in low- and moderate-income consumers’ financial status, attitudes, behaviors, resilience and more. To encourage the financial capability sector to embed outcome measurement as a standard practice, The Success Measures Financial Capability Indicators and Tools are now available to the field free of charge.

What makes these tools distinct from other traditional measures that gauge the effectiveness of financial capability efforts is the inclusion of behavioral tools that address concrete things people do, as well as the strategies they employ to manage financial change over time. Data collected from The Success Measures Financial Capability Indicators and Tools can be tailored by community-based organizations to conduct structured conversations with clients on financial issues, inform changes in program design, and communicate results to a wide range of stakeholders. Financial capability funders, researchers and policymakers can analyze client data across multiple organizations working toward the same outcomes with the same set of shared, tested metrics to identify best practice, improve their understanding of factors that impact financial stability and promote innovation through public policy reform.

This collaborative field-building effort has already gained considerable traction. For example, the Youth Financial Empowerment (YFE) program in New York City has used the new tools to determine attitudes and behaviors regarding financial practices of youth in its program and is continuing to track changes over time. This will enable YFE to better help its clients cultivate a mindset about saving money that would support the transition from foster care to independence. In Oakland, the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation has been able to make use of the tools to help its clients begin to learn how to reduce their debt, while also beginning to accumulate savings.

To sustain the momentum of these and similar efforts, a two-year, $5 million grant from the Citi Foundation is supporting a scaling initiative aimed at delivering state-of-the-art financial education and coaching needed to enable families to build their savings, reduce debt and better manage their finances. As an important component of the initiative, 31 organizations are receiving training and technical assistance to use the Success Measures Financial Capability tools to conduct real-time evaluations of how the financial knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of their clients change over time.

We welcome your feedback on these new financial capability outcome evaluation tools and look forward to learning how practitioners are using them in their asset-building work. Check out the tools in the Citi-funded publication here:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Has Spring Sprung in Your Community?

The 100th Anniversary of the Cherry Blossoms marks another start to Spring in the Nation’s capitol, and the warmer weather is a chance for us to get out and green our communities. Several NeighborWorks Network members are already hard at work infusing sustainability into community development.

Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C.

New Kensington CDC’s Sustainable 19125 aims to make 19125 the greenest zip code in Philadelphia. Their blog offers some information about all topics green and sustainable, like this one about a community compost. 

Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland shared this rain garden article on how to make your own rain garden. These beautiful, yet functional, green spaces can help prevent water pollution and homeowners may be able to take tax credits from them. 

Argenta Community Development Corporation created the Vestal Urban Farming Project in North Little Rock, AR. You can learn more about this sustainable community-based food system, and see videos, in the recent Today’s THV news feature on the first urban farm in North Little Rock.

To learn about other great “Spring greening” ideas, visit the NeighborWorks Organizations Green Efforts page and your idea on Neighborworks Facebook and Twitter channels.