Wednesday, January 30, 2013

NHS of Greater Cleveland: A Port in the Foreclosure Storm

This blog is part of our 35th Anniversary Celebration series, highlighting NeighborWorks affiliates which are celebrating milestone years marking either their membership in the network or their incorporation as an organization. This month, NHSGC is celebrating 15 years since incorporation. 

By Brittany Hutson, NeighborWorks
America Public Relations fellow

The 2008 housing crisis caused many to wonder if buying a home could still be considered the "American dream." In spite of all the uncertainty about the housing market, Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland, Inc. (NHSGC) has remained steadfast in its mission to assist their clients in becoming homeowners. “A lot of people will say Cleveland and Slavic Village was the epicenter of foreclosure, mortgage fraud, flipping, etc.,” says Executive Director Lou Tisler. “But it was also the epicenter for solution based programs for the foreclosure crisis.”

Tisler says that the foreclosure crisis gave NHSGC an opportunity to prove their value and leadership and that the crisis required the organization to be more flexible and creative. The organization was selected for the Ohio Foreclosure Prevention Task Force, accumulated nearly $5.6 million to assist people in need with the NeighborWorks Collaborative of Ohio, and provided testimony at congressional hearings.

Dave Wilson came to NHSGC to avoid foreclosure. He had
suffered an injury and struggled to make ends meet. By working with
NHSGC, Wilson was able to get an affordable loan modification.
This month, the Cleveland, Ohio organization celebrates 15 years as part of the NeighborWorks network.  NHSGC offers a number of programs to “help people get, fix and keep their homes,” says Tisler. These programs include a homebuyer education program, a down payment assistance program, providing rehab loans to those who cannot get lending from traditional banks, a sustainability program that focuses on foreclosure prevention and intervention; mortgage counseling; and EnergYOU, which helps clients and residents conserve their budgets for utilities and food costs. The organization serves primarily low-to-moderate income people, as well as people with moderate-to-high income that seek foreclosure prevention assistance. “Our clients are usually underserved, under-banked and under-represented in the housing market,” says Tisler. The organization serves up to 3,500 people per year.

Raylene Hood reached out to NHSGC for assistance in saving her home. A
NHSGC counselor helped her apply for rescue funds to bring her mortgage current.
NHSGC also helped Hood when she needed emergency repairs on her roof.
Though NHSGC has seen its fair share of challenges in home equity, lack of access to capital, and limited lending, Tisler praises his staff of 16 for their motivation and commitment to serving the organization’s targeted community. “The staff [has been] the greatest asset to the organization,” says Tisler. “Our staff has gotten us to a solution based delivery system. To see them come in everyday and make what they do happen is incredible.”

In addition to the staff, Tisler says that being a part of the NeighborWorks network is “an incredible, valuable asset for the organization and the people we serve.” He adds, “As a network member, NHSGC has access to best practices and funding, and can share experiences and ideas with other network organizations. It is truly a network of excellence.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Neighborhood Housing Services of Richland County, Inc.: 30 Years of Serving Wisconsin

NeighborWorks America is celebrating its 35 anniversary this year. This blog is part of our 35th Anniversary Celebration series, highlighting NeighborWorks affiliates which are celebrating milestone years marking either their membership in the network or their incorporation as an organization. This month, NHSRC is celebrating 30 years since incorporation. 

By Brittany Hutson, NeighborWorks
America Public Relations fellow

Neighborhood Housing Services of Richland County, Inc. (NHSRC) is the first and oldest operating rural program in the NeighborWorks network. For 30 years, NHSRC has been a resource for home preservation, new home construction, homeownership programs and foreclosure prevention in Richland County, Wisconsin.

Executive Director Terry Testolin says new home construction is one of NHSRC’s most successful lines of business. According to Testolin, the housing stock in NHSRC’s targeted communities is “very old with a high dilapidation rate.” Since 1995, the organization has built 52 new homes, a majority of which are energy star certified.  Due to the recession, output has slowed, but NHSRC continues to build new homes. This year, NHSRC will complete construction of two homes and Testolin plans to build two more homes in 2014. “It was amazing to us when we built our 50th house,” says Testolin. “When you think of all the people you’ve helped and the economic development that comes out of that, not too many people are trying that.”

Home before repairs
Before NHSRC repairs

NHSRC also receives rehabilitation requests that are generally for roofing repairs and window replacements. In one case, nearly two years ago, NHSRC discovered that a single family home had a number of lead hazards, in addition to general repairs. NHSRC pooled funds from NeighborWorks America, HUD's HOME Investment Partnership Program, and the City of Richland Center’s Community Development Block Grant to cover project costs. Today the project is nearly complete with minor interior work remaining . The family, which includes four children — three of whom are under the age of six — is relieved that their children can sleep and play in a safe and healthy home. They also appreciate the improved energy efficiencies the rehab provided.

Home as repairs near completion (snow, sunny)
As repairs near completion

By leveraging partnerships locally and nationally, NHSRC has extended their reach and services while gaining valuable support from their collaborators. As a NeighborWorks member, Testolin says, “We view our partnership with NeighborWorks as one of the strongest partnerships that there is.” From this partnership, NHSRC had the opportunity in July of 2012 to join with all five of the other NeighborWorks organizations in their state to create the NeighborWorks Alliance of Wisconsin. The mission of the alliance is to improve housing opportunities and build strong communities for all Wisconsin residents.

In addition, Testolin is a 2007 graduate of NeighborWorks’ Achieving Excellence program, an organizational investment program for executive directors in community development. Due to that experience, NHSRC was able to collaborate with the Ho-Chunk Housing and Community Development Agency, and in 2010, the organizations won the Partnership Fair Housing Award from the Wisconsin Fair Housing Network for addressing the housing needs of Native Americans.

Monday, January 28, 2013

SMHA Promotes Prosperity for Rural Communities

NeighborWorks America is celebrating its 35 anniversary this year. This blog is part of our 35th Anniversary Celebration series, highlighting NeighborWorks affiliates which are celebrating milestone years marking either their membership in the network or their incorporation as an organization. 

By Brittany Hutson, NeighborWorks
America Public Relations fellow
Since 1969, Southern Mutual Help Association (SMHA), based in New Iberia, Louisiana, has worked to build prosperous rural communities by addressing poverty and equality issues for individuals and families whose livelihoods are dependent on the land and water. This year SMHA celebrates its fifth year as a NeighborWorks charter member.

SMHA has changed a great deal over the years. In the beginning, SMHA tackled political and local issues that threatened the quality of life for sugar cane farm workers in southern Louisiana. The organization advocated for better wages and more access to homeownership. They also established community-based programs.

In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Denise Galatas, special assistant to the president, says the organization is proud  to have been first responders, especially in isolated communities, where they helped individuals, families and business
SMHA's Assistant Executive Director/Life Quality Director, Helen Vinton, 
(right) with a fisher (left) who received assistance from SMHA
to repair his boat and stay in business
owners navigate through their recovery.

After Katrina, SMHA launched a Rural Recovery Response and raised approximately $10.5 million to rebuild communities across Louisiana. More than 1,500 individual homes, churches and businesses were aided by that effort. In response to the 2010 oil spill, SMHA raised funds to provide fishing business owners with grants and loans to help them stay in business. SMHA is currently working to create a Gulf Coast Fishers Loan Fund so shrimpers, fin fishers, oyster fishers and crabbers have access to affordable capital.

Intracoastal Seafood employees hard at work processing shrimp.
SMHA helped this Vermilion Parish seafood dock continue its
operations following storms in 2005 and 2008.
Galatas says SMHA will continue to create solutions while finding ways to remove barriers to equity. This strategy also includes working to increase knowledge and investment in rural communities. Galatas says NeighborWorks has been an excellent partner in assisting SMHA with its mission. “We have connected with strong and efficient organizations across the country that we may not have otherwise linked up with,” she says. “We have made new friends and partners because of our affiliation with NeighborWorks.”

Learn more about SMHA at

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Leadership Development and Community Building Activities Improve Communities and Help the Bottom Line

This blog entry is reposted from our Leaders for Communities website.
By Sara Varela NeighborWorks America Community Building and Organizing communications specialist

Twin Cities Community Development Corporation in Fitchburg, MA wrote a fantastic example of how community building and organizing activities help an organization’s bottom line, and how leadership development improves a neighborhood. These are my favorite types of stories. What do you think about them? Read the examples below and leave a comment.

Examples of leadership development improving a neighborhood are reflected in these two stories:

Photo of Paysha Rhone and James Kayaba with a little girl. These are two of the three residents who advocated for sidewalks in their community.
Three residents involved with Twin Cities CDC spoke on behalf of the Elm Street Area Neighborhood Association in front of the City Council Public Works Committee. Residents LeNeia Thomas, Paysha Rhone and James Kayaba had not spoken much publicly before, but they advocated earnestly for sidewalk and road improvements in their neighborhood. They argued the improvements would enhance the safety of children and elders in the area. Prior to this action, all the three resident leaders attended either or both  the NeighborWorks Community Leadership Institute and the Community Action Training sponsored by Twin Cities CDC. Thanks to their efforts, the process for paving these streets has begun.

A second story relates to a resident-led open house and barbeque. As Twin Cities CDC finished building new homes in the Elm Street Area, the organization became concerned about selling them. The first home had been on the market for two years. The construction had created debt, other homes were adding to the organization's inventory and there was pressure to sell the homes under the rules for HUD's HOME program.

Resident-led open house and BBQ
Residents decided to hold a block party to help sell the homes. They got out the grill, organized the music and that day the first home was sold to an employee of Fitchburg State University! Two of the three homes for sale were sold shortly after this event, greatly relieving financial stress on the organization and proving what the residents of the neighborhood already knew: people wanted to live in the neighborhood.

Residents were also excited about a new daycare business inside a formerly foreclosed home. They welcomed the daycare with a press conference and used this as yet another opportunity to sell a new homes. At the time Twin Cities submitted their quarterly report to NeighborWorks America, the last of the new homes had been put under agreement and another home they rehabilitated was also under agreement.

Community building activities and resident leadership development are not often looked as money makers for an organization, but these stories demonstrate that resident activities can help an organization’s bottom line!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

NeighborWorks Prepares for MLK Day of Service

By Nikki Perez
NeighborWorks America VISTA leader
The NeighborWorks VISTA Program was established in 2009 to increase the capacity of local NeighborWorks organizations by adding full-time VISTA members in critical areas, such community stabilization, resident engagement and others. The program helps organizations facing increased demand caused by the foreclosure crisis and reduced resources due to the recession. The program also helps attract and retain new and diverse talent to the community development field while providing meaningful service opportunities for those who wish to support their country and their communities.

On January 21, 2013 millions of people around the nation will come together in volunteer efforts in honor of The MLK National Day of Service, making it "a day on, not a day off." In support of this national call to serve, the NeighborWorks VISTA Program has encouraged VISTA members and NeighborWorks organizations to assist their communities through acts of service. This year, some planned Martin Luther King (MLK) day activities include:

Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation 
Ventura, California

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C.
Creative Commons photo by The Uprooted Photographer
VISTA member Victor Espinosa will facilitate a community dialogue on the meaning of Martin Luther King’s words and actions. The discussion will include topics such as race, equality and social justice in Ventura County. Rather than viewing Dr. King’s legacy of racial, social, and economic justice as a historical victory, this event seeks to connect his legacy to an ongoing social justice struggle, recover critical, yet less-examined facets of King’s words, and connect them to current local social justice movements. Additional event details on the Presidential Inauguration Committee's National Day of Service website.

Neighborhood Housing Services of Richland County 
Richland Center, Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin Ph.D. candidate, Simon Balto will give a free civil rights talk. VISTA member Robert Johnson will provide the introduction to the lecture and include some information about the earned income tax credit. This discussion will be advertised in the community with all encouraged to attend.

Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven 
New Haven, Connecticut

On Saturday, VISTA members at Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven will be sanding the living room floor of a former Visiting Nurses Association nurse who due to a stroke, has physical limitations and cannot go up stairs and uses the living room for her bedroom.

On Sunday, VISTA member, Joey Rosenberg of Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven will be volunteering with the Yale Peabody Museum for their MLK Environmental and Social Justice Event. The event will help children learn about MLK Jr. and ways to save the environment through stage performances and learning booths. Many organizations in the area will have having booths and Joey will be serving at the United Community and Family Services booth.

On Monday, VISTA members at Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven are planning to volunteer with the Veterans Affair making welcoming baskets. These baskets are filled with household items for formerly homeless veterans who are moving into new apartments.

NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley 
Woonsocket, Rhode Island

This year for NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley’s MLK Day of Service event the MLK Community Service Committee are collaborating with community members to create murals dedicated to MLK’s message and the community’s cultural diversity. The murals will be painted at the Woonsocket Police Station, Woonsocket High School and the YMCA in downtown Woonsocket. There will also be a neighborhood cleanup effort on the same day. Read more about the event here.

Want to join an event? Visit the Presidential Inauguration Committee's National Day of Service website to find an event near you. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Believing in the People We Help

 This blog entry is reposted from our Leaders for Communities website.

By Sara Varela 
NeighborWorks America
Community Building and Organizing
communications specialist

The other day I told my nine-year-old he was in charge of preparing lunch for the family, since we were all very busy and hungry. I told him to prepare tuna sandwiches, and gave him all the ingredients he needed. He was more than thrilled to take on a major responsibility like that one. He has seen his dad, his older sister and I take turns at preparing and serving meals all his life, but he seldom gets to do it. I told him to prepare the sandwiches, serve them, set the table and call us when lunch was ready. He did a fantastic job; yes, the sandwiches weren’t as perfect as they’d been if I had done them, but my son accomplished the main goal of feeding us himself.

Trusting others to perform important tasks themselves is a critical part of helping them grow, and this concept is highly applicable in the nonprofit world.

Compost Cadet at work
My employer, NeighborWorks America, is a grant-maker which means we rely on our grantees to use our funds responsibly on projects that help the community directly and also inspire residents to help themselves.  Recently, I saw pictures from a NeighborWorks project with affiliate Chinatown Community Development Center (Chinatown CDC) in San Francisco. The photos give a visual example of how Chinatown CDC has used a $10,000 Deep Green Community Building and Organizing (CB&O) Impact grant to empower resident leaders and youth to educate the community on waste reduction through proper composting and recycling.

One of Chinatown CDC's main goals was to focus on leadership and ownership by residents for a more sustainable green community. The approach Chinatown CDC took creating this ownership and leadership among residents was comprehensive and ultimately quite successful. Some activities supported by the grant were:
  • Lunch Program: Twenty-four youth volunteers educated other youth (and even some parents) to properly sort items into compost, recycling, and trash bins. The 12 volunteers alternated shifts each day, making sure that there were three people teaching the kids at all times. By the end of summer, the volunteers were just a presence because the kids were automatically doing it correctly.
  • Arts & Crafts: Led by a resident volunteer, a group of five youth made wind chimes entirely from recycled items and learned about the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling.
  • Compost Cadets: Eleven youth eagerly volunteered to be Compost Cadets (or Compost Cops, as they called themselves). These young leaders were trained to monitor residents at community events to make sure they were properly sorting their garbage. The Compost Cadets created their own badges and ticket booklets. They rewarded good behavior with environmentally-friendly stickers and they educated people they caught throwing food items or recyclables into the wrong bins.
Compost Cadet at work
The pride that my son felt at being handed an important responsibility and trusting him to getting it done well is the same pride I see in the photos of the children who were given the role of Compost Cadet. As I see the pictures of these young leaders, and the pride, ownership and responsibility that is reflected in them, I realized they embody what CB&O is all about: providing opportunities for skill building, giving residents leadership roles they might not have considered before and ultimately supporting resident-led improvements in their own communities.

There is nothing worse than setting up the stage for leadership development, and then not allowing space, or not trusting the people to take charge. Had I told my son he was responsible for lunch, and then taken over and made the sandwiches myself, or helped him because I didn’t trust he could do a good job, it wouldn’t have been the same. As practitioners I think it is important to walk our talk and really believe the people we want to help have the answers to their own problems. Our role is to enable them to find those answers, and then trust that their decisions were the best ones.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Partnerships Bring Energy Efficiency to Vermont

This blog post comes to us from Erica Bradley, NeighborWorks Rural Initiative VISTA

Blowing insulation in an attic is a great way to keep
energy costs down.
NeighborWorks Western Vermont (NWWVT) is in new territory with their focus on energy efficiency, thanks to a grant by the Department of Energy, and recently, a new partnership with Green Mountain Power.

“We have suddenly become a major player in the energy initiative in Vermont, “said NWWVT executive director Ludy Biddle. 

The new partnership between NWWVT and Green Mountain Power (GMP) comes two years after the Department of Energy granted $4.2 million to NWWVT as part of the Better Buildings program. According to the Department of Energy website, the program targets efficiency improvements such as lighting, better insulation and more efficient heating and cooling. Another program area is educating customers about energy efficiency and how to finance upgrades.

Under the grant, NWWVT’s Home Efficiency Assistance Team (HEAT) Squad schedules audits of homes with a certified contractor who issues recommendations and a cost estimate. An energy advisor from the HEAT Squad can then go over the recommendations with the client, including financing options. Biddle said 1,000 homes have to be done over a three- year period in Rutland County, and so far they have completed over 500. Biddle said they are on track to meet the 1,000 home requirement by 2013.

The HEAT Squad’s work laid the foundation for the partnership to form with Green Mountain Power. “We’ve been helping the utilities not directly, but by providing outreach, customer service, loan products and all of the things a NeighborWorks housing organization does for its clients, we’ve been doing to enhance the participation in the efficiency programs,” Biddle said.

GMP, Biddle said, has an interest in providing good customer service, especially in Southern Vermont. The company was formerly a small energy company with a service area in the northern part of the state, but in August, 2012 bought Central Vermont Public Service and now serves southern Vermont as well.

From L to R: Ludy Biddle, executive director of NWWVT;
Jim Merriam, director of Efficiency Vermont;
Jonathan Dancing, BPI contractor/auditor;
United States Congressman Peter Welch (VT-D),
and Mary Powel, CEO of Green Mountain Power.
“There was concern in our part of the state that high paying jobs and the corporate presence would leave the county and go north, and once again Burlington would get all the good things and we would be left with very little,” she said.

The concerns were unfounded, Biddle said, and GMP made several promises, including investing in Rutland, making it the solar capital of the state, and designing the Energy Innovation Center. “I genuinely see action behind the promises they made,” Biddle said.

One of the promises, the innovation center, is now taking shape. GMP invited NWWVT and Efficiency Vermont in as partners, and the three organizations will share office space in the center. For now, the center is located in the Opera House in downtown Rutland. GMP is renovating the Eastman's Building and has plans to move the innovation center there after renovations are complete. The Eastman’s Building, Biddle said, has long been a sore spot in Rutland.

Biddle said the renovations to the Eastman’s Building represent another investment in Rutland. She expects they will be moved in by fall, 2013. She expects to locate at least two members of the HEAT Squad there.

Monday, January 7, 2013

CVC Showcases What Can Happen to Foreclosed Properties When Government and Private Sector Work Together

Community Ventures Corporation, our affiliate in Kentucky, in partnership with the Governor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, Kentucky Department of Local Governments, Kentucky Housing Corporation, and other partners showcased what can happen to foreclosed properties when government and the private sector work together.

Attorney General Conway; Marshall Crawford,
NeighborWorks America; Governor Beshear; Kevin Smith,
Community Ventures Corporation

Today, the Hartford Place Apartments were highlighted as congratulations were made and partnerships were celebrated with all of the partners at CVC’s headquarters in Lexington. Attorney General Conway; Marshall Crawford, director, NeighborWorks America Southern District; Governor Beshear and Kevin Smith, president and CEO of CVC, spoke at the event.

CVC’s purchase of Hartford Place coincides with the Commonwealth’s neighborhood revitalization mission of acquiring and providing safe and decent affordable rental opportunities to low and middle income residents and returning foreclosed properties to a useful community asset.

The project consists of three buildings with a total of 49 units. The property, which was a foreclosed property for sale by lender, had only a 70 percent occupancy rate and needs rehab due to the poor condition of many of the units. Sixteen currently vacant units will be completely rehabbed, more efficient HVAC systems will be installed, one unit will be updated to meet handicap accessible criteria and resident services, such as financial literacy and homebuyer education, will be provided. All units will be rehabbed as they become vacant.

Kevin R. Smith, president and CEO of Community Ventures Corporation praised the public and private partnerships that made it possible for 49 families to have safe and affordable housing in Lexington. "Without all of these partners coming together, it couldn’t have happened," Smith said. "Families on Martha Court now have a place to call their own. Some of these folks have been through foreclosure and had to leave their home. Through this project, they have landed and can be successful as renters."