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.