Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fulfilling the Dream of Homeownership in Paradise

This blog is part of our 35th Anniversary Celebration series, highlighting NeighborWorks member organizations 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

Hawaii is known for its tranquil waters and natural beauty, but the state is also one of the most expensive places to live and buy a home. For 10 years, Hawai‘i HomeOwnership Center (HHOC), based in Honolulu, has been a resource for providing education, information, and support for first-time homeowners. Since the average income does not mirror the high cost of living in the state, HHOC’s services are particularly helpful to low and moderate income households. The organization has assisted more than 930 families become first-time home buyers and this year, HHOC anticipates assisting their 1,000th homeowner.

Hawaii was not immune to the effects of the global economic crisis; HHOC had to develop new strategies to assist their clients. “We never thought that we’d see foreclosures on a high level since real estate has always been a finite commodity in our state,” says HHOC Executive Director Dennis Oshiro. “We have been compelled to deal with the rising number of families in danger of losing their homes dues to financial hardships, as well as educate the public about avoiding modification scams.”

Maria Stewart and Matthew Kriegler attended a Hawaii HomeOwnwership
Center orientation and thought, “homeownership is for other people.” 
They signed up anyway and realized homeownership was
possible. Now they enjoy meals in their own backyard.
After noticing a growing need from homeowners that wanted assistance in resolving their mortgage situation, HHOC added a foreclosure prevention counseling program in February 2009. Instead of hiring new staff, HHOC’s counselors were trained and became certified as foreclosure counselors. Since the foreclosure prevention program’s implementation, over 750 families have been assisted by HHOC. Although lower interest rates have helped create a sellers’ market, rising sales prices and tight credit restrictions for low down payment buyers have made it challenging for low and moderate income buyers to purchase homes, says Oshiro. “In the last four years, more of our clientele have been long-term clients that require additional support to purchase a home.”

For years, Mary Ellen Farias has kept her receipts in a zip lock bag as part of
her system for tracking expenses. Now Farias is a homeowner.
She says, “I did it for my son.”
Oshiro recalls a story about a client, whom he calls ”Keone”, who was able to purchase a home for his wife and four children after completing HHOC’s homebuyer education classes. Keone and his wife were both employed but could not afford to rent a home. The family alternated living with their friends and family members for at least a year. Keone and his wife took HHOC’s online education classes—through which they learned about money management, getting a mortgage, shopping for a home, and credit—and attended counseling sessions.

Oshiro recalls his staff commenting, “Keone was like a sponge soaking up every bit of information at his meetings. He is the only client we know of that read the entire 1-1/2 inch textbook from cover to cover!” Keone and his family now live in a home of their own. “Keone’s open attitude towards learning and his enthusiasm of working towards his dream of homeownership reflects what we have seen in many clients after they are equipped to make homeownership possible,” says Oshiro.

Oshiro says being a part of the NeighborWorks network has allowed HHOC to “operate at a high-level on behalf of our clients” because of the funding and technical assistance NeighborWorks provides. 

Learn more about HHOC at

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dorothy Richardson: An African-American Leader

Dorothy Richardson
As we recognize Black History Month, it is a good time to reflect on the history of African-American leaders within the history of NeighborWorks America.  In fact, the very existence of our organization is due in large part to an African-American homemaker named Dorothy Richardson. 

Richardson’s Pittsburgh neighborhood was in decline, partially due to redlining policies that prevented most banks from lending to her and her neighborhoods. At the time, in the 1960s, most cities tried to solve blight by demolishing neighborhoods, but Richardson knew that she and others were willing to fix their homes if they could get loans.

Richardson and supporters in front of a home
that would be rehabilitated instead of torn down
Together Dorothy Richardson, along with her neighbors, city bankers and government officials  convinced 16 financial institutions to make conventional loans in the community; a local foundation capitalized a revolving loan fund. They named the resulting organization Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc. and it became a model for organizations nationwide 

Richardson is credited with introducing a new model of community development, one that emphasized cross-sector partnership and ground-up solutions for struggling communities.  During the 1970s and 1980s, Richardson remained a prominent figure by educating and inspiring community leaders throughout the country. She assisted them with establishing their own resident-led organizations, which led to the creation of what would be called the NeighborWorks America network. In 1978, Congress later institutionalized the network by establishing the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, now known as NeighborWorks America.

Mural of Dorothy Richardson by artist at NeighborWorks
affiliate Orlando Neighborhood Improvement Corporation
Today NeighborWorks America supports a network of more than 235 nonprofits, located in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Our network members serve low- and moderate- income individuals and families of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, including African-Americans.

In 2012, NeighborWorks organizations served more than 11,000 African-American individuals with homeownership counseling, foreclosure counseling, refinancing, reverse mortgages, and rehab services. NeighborWorks organizations also served nearly 30,000 African American–headed rental households. Together, the NeighborWorks network helps residents to build stronger communities, achieve and maintain homeownership and support the creation and preservation of affordable rental homes.

In honor of Richardson’s life work, NeighborWorks America created the Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership in 1992. Each year, the award honors seven community leaders from around the country for their outstanding contributions to their communities. Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc. in Pittsburgh, now known as NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania, created the Dorothy Richardson Legacy Award in 2008 to recognize outstanding contributions by dedicated volunteers and long-serving board members.

To learn more about Dorothy Richardson and NeighborWorks America, watch this video:
To learn more about the 2012 Dorothy Richardson Award winners, visit: 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hope Enterprise Corporation: Building Financial Wealth in the Mississippi Delta Region

This blog is part of our 35th Anniversary Celebration series, highlighting NeighborWorks member organizations 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

This year, Hope Enterprise Corporation (HOPE), a community development financial institution (CDFI), marks 20 years of providing support and assistance for small business owners and homeowners in economically distressed areas of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Based in Jackson, Mississippi, HOPE has grown from providing financing and technical assistance to small business owners to investing in other focus areas such as housing, healthcare, and community development. In 2002, HOPE further expanded the scope of their services by becoming the primary sponsor of Hope Credit Union.

Hope Credit Union was organized in 1995 by members of Anderson United Methodist Church to provide access to financial services to low-income residents in Jackson, Mississippi. Nearly two years ago, Bancorp South, the largest bank in Mississippi announced plans to close 23 branches. Nine of those were in communities where Bancorp South was the only bank.  According to Executive Director William Bynum, “It left a lot of families without access to financial services.”  Utica, a small rural town near Jackson, Mississippi, was particularly affected by the bank closures; so, local leaders invited the Hope Credit Union to establish a local branch that would be run by Utica residents.  According to Bynum, similar bank deserts have emerged throughout the Mississippi Delta region. “Opening that branch [in Utica] addressed a critical need for that community,” he says. “[We were] able to work with [them] and help them recover and essentially create their own financial institution.” The credit union offers business and mortgage lending, as well as basic financial services.

A housewarming celebration for the first two families moving into
homes in the new Radiant Blossoms development in New Orleans
HOPE and Hope Credit Union have also been resources for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Those affected had access to services like small business and housing recovery, and could open accounts to receive recovery funds.  In the wake of the disaster, HOPE joined with NeighborWorks and other collaborators to create Home Again, a home rebuilding effort. HOPE and NeighborWorks also partnered to develop a financial curriculum to help homeowners on the Gulf Coast develop recovery plans. “People needed help navigating all the confusion,” says Bynum.  “We counseled about 10,000 people who received roughly $600 million for housing recovery needs.”

Bynum is proud that HOPE has been able to help people respond to devastating events like Hurricane Katrina and the recent economic downturn. “We’ve been able to survive, navigate, and provide services to thousands of people; it’s a great feeling.” Part of their ability to survive and expand is due to their interest in partnerships, like NeighborWorks. “NeighborWorks has been at the front of the line as a critical partner by providing capital and technical support,” says Bynum. “They are proactive and creative, and have been wonderful to work with.”

Learn more about HOPE at

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

35 Years of Preserving and Rehabilitating New York’s Rural Communities

This blog is part of our 35th Anniversary Celebration series, highlighting NeighborWorks member organizations which are celebrating milestone years marking either their membership in the network or their incorporation as an organization. Last month, Chautauqua Home Rehabilitation and Improvement Corporation celebrated their 35th year since incorporation. 

By Brittany Hutson, NeighborWorks
America Public Relations fellow
For 35 years, the Chautauqua Home Rehabilitation and Improvement Corporation (CHRIC), located in Mayville, New York, has rehabbed thousands of homes in Chautauqua County. Chautauqua is a low-income rural county situated in southwestern New York. The county has a population of over 126,000 and is a tourist area that offers grape vineyards, wine trails, ski resorts, and fishing in Chautauqua Lake. According to Staci Bemis, housing rehab coordinator for CHRIC, Chautauqua County holds the oldest housing stock in the country, and this has presented a bevy of rehab projects for the organization. CHRIC’s achievements include the completion of nearly 2,700 homes from 1990 to 2011, an approximate value of $25.5 million in housing rehab funds. This was accomplished in spite of the various challenges brought on by the recent recession, such as decreasing housing values, job losses and population loss.

Though rehabilitation is the organization’s largest line of business, CHRIC also offers foreclosure and homeownership counseling, lending, and has been involved in historic preservation and downtown community development projects, including a five-year rehabilitation project on a lighthouse situated on Lake Erie in the city of Dunkirk.
A property before rehabilitation
After CHRIC performed rehab work

CHRIC’s dedication to rehabilitation has made a difference in the lives of numerous local families. For example, the organization received a home through donation in 1998. The home was one of CHRIC’s rehab projects and in 2008, the organization was able to place a family of eight in the home after counseling through CHRIC’s Home Buyers Club. “This was a family who really had been experiencing pretty severe housing needs,” says Jim Goodling, executive director from late 2011 to January 2013. He also recalls assisting a family in which the father worked full time as a janitor and the mother stayed at home to tend to her two mentally and physically disabled girls. Through their counseling program, CHRIC helped the family become homeowners and reduce their monthly expenditures. “That’s indicative of the kind of work that we do.”

CHRIC’s rehabilitation service is in high demand these days and it has been challenging to keep up with requests. “There are nearly 465 families on our waiting list,” says Goodling. “We can address only a small part of those requests in any given year.” Funding is one of the biggest constraints. However, Goodling believes that being a charter member of NeighborWorks has been helpful to CHRIC. Funding from NeighborWorks, along with other federal sources and state contributions, has enabled CHRIC to undertake its “buy, rehab, and sell” housing program. Funding has also provided a basis for their loan and mortgage programs.

Learn more about CHRIC at

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Transformation of a Tax-phobe

Elena Kaye-Schiess, AmeriCorps VISTA
with NeigborWorks Rural Initative

When I used to think about filing my taxes, I pictured myself standing at the edge of a cliff with my head turned away and my eyes closed while I dropped my stack of tax documents into the abyss. On the one hand, I considered the IRS a black abyss where as long as nothing came back out to bite me, I was golden. On the other hand, my understanding of what exactly I was sending was analogous to holding my breath and crossing my fingers.

Last year I first heard the terms EITC and VITA, or Earned Income Tax Credit and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites, through an a collaboration of NeighborWorks America's Rural Initiative and the NeighborWorks America homeownership team. The teams were working together on an open grant round to build the capacity of VITA sites operated by NeighborWorks organizations across the country. I learned about the impact NeighborWorks organizations have had in their communities through VITA sites that help residents correctly file their taxes and access the EITC, and how support from NeighborWorks America has enabled the organizations to efficiently and effectively reach more residents in their service areas.
VITA volunteers at Urban Edge help residents access their tax advantages

The EITC is one of the federal government’s largest anti-poverty programs, and each year it helps lift an estimated 6.6 million people above the poverty line. However, because workers move in and out of eligibility based on changes in their marital, parental and financial status, awareness is critical. About one-third of the EITC eligible population turns over each year, and this year millions of workers will qualify for the EITC for the first time (

Photo: Creative Commons,
VITA sites bridge the awareness gap to help ensure those who qualify can claim the credit. The IRS works with national partners, community-based coalitions and thousands of local partners and governments, including many NeighborWorks organizations, to establish sites around the country. IRS-certified volunteers will provide free basic tax preparation and education about the EITC, as well as other credits individuals may qualify for. Benefits screening is also available to determine eligibility for services such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and LIHEAP (Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program).

Working on this project made me realize it was time to pull back the curtain on my tax aversion.  I became certified to volunteer at a VITA site operated by a NeighborWorks organization in my community. A year later I’ve not only become a VITA volunteer junkie, but I also incessantly hound my friends and family about how the EITC is a critical asset-building initiative, and how fantastic it is that there is probably a site in their community where they can sit down with a real live person who will prepare their taxes for free while explaining how the process works.

While volunteering with Urban Edge last year, I watched as many clients came in for tax prep, but when they learned about the financial education services Urban Edge also offered, such as first-time homebuyer education and credit counseling, they signed up for those as well. The CDC’s VITA role acted as a gateway for community members to get involved in the broader programs also available.

A friend recently told me about a new iPhone app where all you have to do is snap a picture of your W-2s and it will automatically populate your tax form for you. The old tax-phobic me would have probably thought this was a fantastic idea, but instead I had a much better recommendation to share: go visit a VITA site, and someone will help you prepare and file your taxes for free.

Want to learn more? Below is a partial list of NeighborWorks organizations which offer tax preparation services:

A full list of all VITA tax sites is available on the IRS website:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Foreclosure Filings Down but Help Still Needed

By Douglas Robinson, media relations manager, NeighborWorks America

Housing counselors at NeighborWorks
affiliate Wyoming Housing Network helped
this couple save their home from foreclosure
RealtyTrac recently reported that new foreclosure filings in January 2013 dropped to the lowest level since April 2007, and that's a big deal and a good sign that many homeowners' financial positions are stabilizing. But the news from RealtyTrac also showed that more than 150,000 new foreclosure related notices were filed in January. These notices are on top of the nearly 1.5 million households who received a foreclosure notice in 2012.

These families need to be directed to the right kind of help and that's where trained housing counselors come in. According to data from the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) program, homeowners who receive help from a counseling agency that is a part of the NFMC program are more likely to obtain a mortgage modification, and get a better new mortgage rate if their loan is modified.

This week, the NeighborWorks Training Institute will convene in Atlanta and dozens of nonprofit professionals will take courses in foreclosure mediation, while dozens more will attend courses toward certification in homebuyer education. Homebuyer education prior to making the home purchase helps ensure that homebuyers know the full financial responsibilities of homeownership. NeighborWorks America believes that if more homeowners had the opportunity to work with a homeownership counselor prior to the housing crisis, the crisis would be much less severe.

More information about the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling program can be found at: www.nw.or/nfmc. The full report to Congress on the NFMC program is available on the NeighborWorks America website

Information about NeighborWorks homeownership programs can be found at:

Monday, February 11, 2013

AAFE: Working for Equal Rights for All

This blog is part of our anniversary celebration series, highlighting NeighborWorks affiliates celebrating milestone years marking either their membership in the network or their incorporation as an organization. Last month, Asian Americans for Equality, Inc. (AAFE) celebrated 5 years as part of the NeighborWorks network. 

By Brittany Hutson, NeighborWorks
America Public Relations fellow
In New York City, the Asian population currently makes up more than 13 percent of the general population, but history has not always been kind to the city’s Asian community. Asian Americans for Equality, Inc. (AAFE) has been working for 35 years to give these residents, and those of all ethnic backgrounds, equal rights and opportunities, especially in the areas of housing and community development.

Christopher Kui, executive director, describes AAFE as a “unique” and “innovative” organization. In the late 1980s, AAFE became the first community development corporation to introduce the low income tax credit in New York City, demonstrating the organization’s willingness to think outside of the box. “We introduced the low income tax credit at a time when no one else did [it] or thought highly of it,” explains Kui. “It was validation that investing in affordable housing benefits everyone in the community,” he says of Equality Houses, two buildings AAFE purchased for temporary and permanent low-income housing.
AAFE's history includes calling attention to the needs of
New York's Chinatown residents

One element of AAFE's work is housing preservation in Chinatown. The organization developed a program with New York City to purchase historical tenement buildings off the private real estate market so that the buildings could be preserved as permanent affordable housing.

Additionally, AAFE has two community development financial institution (CDFI) affiliates: the AAFE Community Development Fund provides first time homebuyers with homeownership counseling and low interest loans; and the Renaissance Economic Development Corporation provides technical assistance and low interest loans to women and minority-owned small businesses.

A Chinatown senior at a Columbus Park beautification project
In between their work with housing, AAFE has also maintained their initial position of serving as a resource when their communities face tragedy and despair. After the September 11th attacks, AAFE initiated the “Rebuild Chinatown Initiative,” a community planning effort that rejuvenated the Chinatown/Lower East Side neighborhood.

Following Superstorm Sandy this past October, AAFE dispersed over 160 emergency repair loans amounting to $3 million to impacted homeowners and small businesses. “The most gratifying part of being at AAFE is seeing how quickly we respond,” says Kui. “AAFE was able to launch this emergency loan program two days after the storm and was able to get funds released quickly to help homeowners and businesses get back on their feet.”

Kui adds that one of the organization’s biggest barriers is helping to educate underserved minorities about their basic rights. “Recent immigrants are scared about bringing up problems they may have due to the language barrier and fear of the government,” he says. “That’s why AAFE’s work is very important because we continue to educate people about their rights, advocate for resources to improve our community, and promote affordable housing.”

In its fifth year as a NeighborWorks member, AAFE not only receives capital from NeighborWorks America but also resources that support the organization’s mission. “NeighborWorks pushes us to be the best organization that we can be,” says Kui.

Friday, February 8, 2013

ONIC Opens Emerald Villas Apartments in Florida

This guest blog comes to us from our Relationship Manager Doug Gaither in our Southern District. Public Affairs and Communication Advisor Hillary Rowe also contributed.

By Doug Gaither, relationship manager

(L to R) Orange County, Housing & Community Development Program Manager
Mitchell Glasser
, County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Bob Ansley and Doug Gaither
The grand opening of the Emerald Villas apartment development marks a major accomplishment for private/public partnership and a turning point for the Pine Hills neighborhood in Orange County, Florida. On January 30, I had the opportunity to meet with Robert “Bob” Ansley, president of the NeighborWorks affiliate that made this moment possible: Orlando Neighborhood Improvement (ONIC). ONIC specializes in creating well-designed, high-quality housing, including both affordable housing and mixed-income developments. All of ONIC's communities have enhanced resident services such as recreation, education, counseling and personal enrichment.
Emerald Villas is an example of transforming blight to opportunity. A year ago, it was in foreclosure with a 70 percent vacancy rate and a glaring example of neglect, disinvestment and high crime. To turn things around, Bob enlisted the help of Mayor Teresa Jacobs of Orange County and well-respected South Florida developer Jorge Perez, president and CEO of the Related Development Group. 

The Related Group and ONIC were able to leverage funding including $7 million from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Project ( a federal program designed to help local communities redevelop abandoned and foreclosed properties) plus $1.6 million obtained through the state’s local housing program to renovate Emerald’s Village at a total cost of $20 million.

Emerald Villas
I must say, it’s hard to believe that this property was ever an eye-sore. With state-of-the-art fitness center and a sparkling blue pool, business office, classrooms, landscaped grounds, security and 264 beautiful renovated and energy-efficient units, this is a wonderful development. In fact, the complex is already 65 percent occupied! Rents are affordable too - starting as low as $431 to $763 a month. This is well below the median rent for Metro Orlando apartments, which runs about $822 per month.
Doug Gaither and Jorge Perez

I attended the grand opening of Emerald Villas along with more than 75 supporters and several beaming residents. The festivities were held in a spanking new clubhouse packed with celebratory balloons and food and beverages donated by local merchants.  At the ceremony, Jorge told me, “affordable housing developments should always look market-rate.”

These apartments certainly fit that description, and, in addition to being beautiful, the apartments are functional. Using the classrooms on site, ONIC will provide an array of resident services including financial capability classes and after-school classes. All in all, Emerald Villas bodes well for the future of residents here and the community as a whole.

Want to know more?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

30 Years of Affordable Homes in Cambridge

This blog is part of our anniversary celebration series, highlighting NeighborWorks affiliates which are celebrating milestone years marking either their membership in the network or their incorporation as an organization. Last month, Cambridge Neighborhood Apartment & Housing Services (CNAHS) celebrated 30 years since incorporation. 

By Brittany Hutson, NeighborWorks
America Public Relations fellow
Cambridge Neighborhood Apartment & Housing Services (CNAHS) understands how rental and homeownership costs in urban locations can severely strain the finances of low income families.  For 30 years, the organization has been dedicated to creating and preserving affordable housing in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the late 1980s rent control in Cambridge was overturned through a statewide referendum.  CNAHS knew there would be a large number of displaced residents unable to find living space at a similarly affordable rate. To help alleviate this problem, CNAHS chose to focus on acquiring and preserving affordable homes. In particular, they targeted those properties where rent controls were expiring and owners were being permitted to convert them to market rate.

Peter Daly, executive director of CNAHS, says that some of CNAHS’ proudest achievements are their preservation projects and the fact that this work prevents lower income people from being outpriced and displaced.  “When we first encounter a project and the residents are very much aware of the threat of losing their homes, it’s an exhilarating experience to work with them [and] to give them hope that their homes will be restored at an affordable rate,” says Daly.
Putnam Green housing. Landscaping at the property features
drought-tolerant and low-maintenance plants (no grass).

CNAHS has preserved five buildings, totaling more than 515 apartments. “About two years ago, we started participating in a new state law in which the state appoints a designee to acquire and operate buildings that are subject to being sold,” says Daly. So far, the state has approved CNAHS as designee of two projects. This state designation is a recognition of the need for the organization’s work, and of all CNAHS has accomplished.

However, CNAHS is not content with just these successes; the organization has adopted a green approach to housing, development, and operations. “We believe in green because it is good for the environment, good for the residents and neighborhood, and good for the operations of the property,” explain Daly. CHAHS was one of 16 organizations in the NeighborWorks network recognized in December 2012 for its green business practices.  “The strength of being in the NeighborWorks network is having so many different organizations around the county doing similar things [as you],” says Daly. “You really get the feeling that you’re not alone. Whenever I come up with a problem or challenge, I can call another organization and we can share ideas or they can offer a solution.”

For more about CNAHS, visit:
For more about the NeighborWorks Green Organization program, visit: