Thursday, March 21, 2013

Providing Pathways Out of Poverty in the Grand Canyon State

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.

ReneƩ Bibby,
marketing coordinator,
Primavera Foundation

More than 28,000 individuals are homeless in Arizona, with 1 in 100 people homeless in Pima County and the Tucson Metropolitan Area. This is double the national average of 1 in 200.

Thirty years ago, Tucson, Arizona like the rest of the country, was experiencing a rapid rise in homelessness. To address this issue, Nancy Bissell and Gordon Packard organized a group of friends and neighbors and created the Primavera Foundation. Their initial goal was to provide for the emergency needs of those in our community who were homeless.

Currently celebrating its 30th year of providing services to the Tucson area, the Primavera Foundation has expanded with a variety of programs, to respond to the complex challenges and diverse needs of the community. Today, Primavera offers a full spectrum of programs that provide multiple affordable housing options, job training, employment opportunities, financial and homeownership education, and neighborhood revitalization. Primavera also provides specialized services for veterans while continuing to address social and economic justice issues. These programs and Primavera’s team of over 1,000 volunteers have helped to create a vibrant grassroots effort to address the underlying causes of poverty in the community.

Rosa Borbon is raising her granddaughter, Mary Rose. Rosa
served on the Las Abuelitas grandparent council, providing
crucial design input into the plans of the Las Abuelitas project.
Photo credit: Primavera Foundation
“Primavera’s job is to meet people wherever they are on their pathway out of poverty,” said Peggy Hutchison, Primavera’s chief executive officer.

A new project under construction for Primavera is Las Abuelitas. This 12-unit community is for low-income grandparents raising their grandchildren and will open in August. It will also include a community center, basketball court, a playground, private gardens within the units, and a community garden.

“Primavera’s job is to meet people wherever they are on their pathway out of poverty,” said Peggy Hutchison, Primavera’s chief executive officer.

 “We were approached by grandparents who had very unique concerns about raising their grandchildren and asked for a solution,” explains Hutchison. “Primavera decided that this was not only an opportunity to help 12 families, but a chance to empower other grandparents and revitalize the neighborhood.” 

Additionally, Primavera is still working to address the needs of individuals. One example is a program participant named Bill McNamee, an ex-offender, who was homeless and in need of employment. After a stay at the Primavera men’s shelter, McNamee moved into Primavera’s rental housing program while participating in Primavera’s workforce development program, Primavera Works. He has now secured a full-time job and is looking forward to joining Primavera’s financial and homeownership education classes. 

Bill McNamee, currently employed as a host at Waffle House,
poses with Waffle House Owner, Gabby Llovet.

Photo credit: Primavera Foundation
“Bill is a great example of how people can grow if given the right opportunity,” says Hutchison. But there are still an abundance of people to assist. Hutchison says a benefit of being a NeighborWorks America charter member is that “NeighborWorks is always willing to support progressive visions and programs.”

“The collaborative partnership that NeighborWorks brings to community development organizations throughout the network is immeasurable,” she adds.

Learn more about Primavera at

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rural Gets a Welcome Spotlight in National Housing Policy Report

By David R. Dangler, director, NeighborWorks Rural Initiative

The Bipartisan Center’s Housing Commission recently released Housing America’s Future:  New Directions for National Policy.  From the introduction we learn that the report is, “the culmination of a 16-month examination of some of the key issues in housing, provides a blueprint for an entirely new system of housing finance for both the ownership and rental markets.” 

The first wave of reactions to the report have naturally focused on the recommendations to wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while re-affirming the importance of sustainable homeownership as integral to the American dream, to engage the private sector more broadly in housing finance, and to remember and include the lowest income renters when allocating increasingly scarce resources. For those working in rural housing, however, what jumped out for many of us was chapter five, “The Importance of Rural Housing."

The rural recommendations give a welcome affirmation to USDA Rural Development’s “primary responsibility” for housing rural Americans, noting “higher poverty rates and lower incomes” which add to rural housing’s affordability burdens. With all the public policy focus on consolidating federal housing programs, the commission’s clear language around keeping rural housing programs at USDA is especially welcome to many.

The report includes four rural policy recommendations: 

1.    Support and strengthen USDA’s role in rural housing.
2.    Extend the current definition of rural areas through the year 2020.
3.    Increase budget allocations to serve more households.
4.    Dedicate resources for capacity-building and technology to strengthen USDA providers

If implemented, these recommendations would dovetail neatly with NeighborWorks America’s own efforts in concert with other national intermediaries—HAC, Rural LISC and Habitat for Humanity—to strengthen the rural nonprofit service delivery system.

Starting well before the Great Recession, NeighborWorks America has consistently prioritized a national partnership between credentialed nonprofits and USDA Rural Development (RD). The thinking has been that there would be a variety of ways for an increasingly professional nonprofit infrastructure to fill in key customer service gaps that would open as RD decreased its field offices and personnel. For example, the packaging of 502 Direct loan applications for RD area offices is about to transition from a handful of pilots to a mainstreamed model for others to follow.

Given the unique interdependence of rural-serving nonprofits and USDA Rural Development, chapter five brings a welcome focus to the issue of rural housing, but as with so many blue ribbon reports, the real value will be in the degree to which the report's recommendations become policy. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Housing Counselors a 'Flashlight' for Sandy Victims

 By Douglas Robinson, media relations manager, NeighborWorks America

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Senator Schumer (NY)
and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan
Photo credit: Keith Getter
Calling counseling a "flashlight for homeowners in the dark", U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (NY) underscored the value that local nonprofit housing counselors provide to homeowners recovering from Superstorm Sandy. Senator Schumer was joined by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan at a press conference held at NeighborWorks America's New York City office (See NY1 video here. Full recording viewable in Chrome, Quicktime here).

NeighborWorks America, its local affiliates and partners have helped educate and train hundreds of homeowners and contractors about remediating the effects of Sandy on homes and businesses. Some specifics include:
  • Assessed 500 homes in Suffolk County Long Island for emergency repairs (Community Development Corporation of Long Island).
  • Provided 180 New York City small business owners and homeowners with affordable loans (Asian Americans for Equality).
  • Purchased 17 manufactured homes for displaced families in Monmouth County New Jersey (Affordable Housing Alliance).
  • Assisted with emergency clean-up and distribution of supplies (Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City) that reached 170 residents.
  • Created a three million dollar revolving loan pool for small businesses throughout New Jersey (New Jersey Community Capital)
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NeighborWorks America Regional Dir. Deborah Boatright,  HUD NY-NJ Acting Regional Admin. Mirza Orriols, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan Photo credit: Keith Getter
With the exception of the lender NJCC, all these groups are HUD certified and have certified housing counselors on staff that practice according to National Industry Standards. Several have added staff to work with homeowners affected by the storm.

NeighborWorks America itself is also taking direct action to help storm victims. On March 8, we released a comprehensive manual for individuals and families affected by Hurricane Sandy, "Navigating the Road to Housing Recovery." Accompanying the guide are trainings for housing counselors and members of the public.  In addition, NeighborWorks America has hosted popular trainings for contractors on how to properly conduct mold remediation.

Learn more about all that NeighborWorks America is doing to assist with Sandy recovery by visiting You can learn more about the value of housing counselors by watching this video on foreclosure prevention.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Celebrating Those Who Work to Build Community

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

By Sara Varela 
NeighborWorks America
Community Building and Organizing
communications specialist

At the recent NeighborWork Training Institute in Atlanta (February 18) NeighborWorks America presented the third annual National Award for Excellence in Community Building and Organizing (CB&O). We honored nine outstanding individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to the field, encourage resident leadership development, support resident led activities and help communities build social capital.

Winners included Julia King from LaCasa Inc in Indiana; Kathryn Benner and Priscila Cisneros, Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation in California; Carol Bronson, NeighborWorks Great Falls, Montana; Alexis Collins, Orlando Neighborhood Improvement Corporation in Florida; Kevin Johnson, Madison Park Development Corporation, in Boston; and Douglas Le, Belinda Yee and Johanna Contreras, Asian Americans from Equality in New York City. I am honored to work with these individuals on a regular basis and to have an opportunity to recognize their hard work.
Award winners during the ceremony (Back, left to right): Carol Bronson; Alexis Collins, Kathryn Benner, Julia King,
Kevin Johnson, Eileen Fitzgerald, Douglas Le (Front) Priscilla Cisneros, Belinda Yee, and Johanna Contreras

These outstanding practitioners are passionate about their work in encouraging and facilitating the development of local talent, so residents can lead the change they want to see in their communities. Thanks to them and to all the other CB&O practitioners in the field. Their work is very important to NeighborWorks America and the communities in which they work.

To see additional photos of the event visit our Flickr page, and watch this video from the local ABC Channel in Great Falls Montana for a piece on Carol Bronson, read the press release from Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation and this article that talks about Julia King in the local paper The Elkart Truth.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Celebrating AmeriCorps Week

Debbie Wise, NeighborWorks AmeriCorps
VISTA program manager
Every day in communities across America, AmeriCorps members are making a powerful impact on the most critical issues facing our nation. Whether building stronger, healthier communities, rebuilding after disasters, preserving the environment, or enhancing relationships among neighbors that lead to positive community change, AmeriCorps members are getting things done. Since 1994, more than 775,000 AmeriCorps members have given one billion hours of service, mobilizing tens of millions of volunteers, and improving the lives of countless citizens.

NeighborWorks America is proud of its 84 AmeriCorps VISTA members serving at 44 NeighborWorks organizations across 28 states. Their hard work, commitment, and dedication to their project sites and communities often go on quietly and without fanfare. This week we celebrate and share their stories. And, most of all, we thank them for their service.

In support of AmeriCorps Week, the NeighborWorks VISTA Program has encouraged VISTA members serving at NeighborWorks organizations to assist their communities through acts of service. This year, some planned AmeriCorps Week activities include:

Family Services, Inc.
North Charleston, South Carolina
A VISTA named Jessica paints a D.C. park bench
AmeriCorps VISTA member Sarah Cornwall is helping out with a Financial Literacy workshop. The topic will be on student loans.  Sarah will be a guest speaker, presenting on AmeriCorps and the opportunities it offers including the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

Community HousingWorks
Escondido, California
Natalie Kessler and Kelly Kean will talk  with teen residents of Community HousingWorks affordable housing complexes.  They will share their experiences as AmeriCorps VISTAs and present on other post high school/college volunteer career opportunities like Teach for America and CityCorps. 

Columbus, Ohio
AmeriCorps VISTA member Becky Neubauer is cleaning up and planting bulbs at the local community center and taking part in a cultural competency and community team building trainings.

NHS of South Florida
Miami, Florida
AmeriCorps VISTA members Victoria Fear and Ryan Shedd will be participating in NHSSF’s 9th Annual Community Paint and Beautification Day, They’ll be assisting homeowners with limited incomes improve their homes by providing exterior painting and light landscape restoration. NHSSF’s goal is to empower homeowners and build community pride through this neighborhood beautification project. In 2012, 12 homes were improved with the assistance of more than 300 volunteers!

“We are proud to be part of AmeriCorps and grateful for the AmeriCorps members who are getting things done right here in our community,” said Arden Shank, President and CEO of the Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida.  “AmeriCorps members have made a tremendous impact in our community, allowing us to extend our services and better carry out our mission.”  

AmeriCorps Week takes place March 9-17, 2013. Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag: #ACweek