Thursday, May 16, 2013

Homebuyer Education Critical, Especially in Rural Communities

This blog is reposted from CFED's website. Erica Bradley works with the NeighborWorks America Rural Initiative.

For years, community development professionals were advocates for financial education. Not many lenders, and certainly not customers, took financial education seriously, until the housing bubble burst in 2008. In rural markets, homebuyers typically do not have the same access to services, like homebuyer education. For many rural organizations, expanding their services to include online financial education courses has allowed them to reach more customers.

Tammy Hyman, homeownership program administrator at PathStone, always knew how important homeownership counseling is. PathStone, she said, had offered it since the late ‘90’s. “If they would have done (homeownership counseling) back then, we wouldn’t be having these issues now,” she said of the lenders.

PathStone, which is headquartered in Rochester, serves New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and parts of Puerto Rico. Many of the markets they serve are rural, and homeownership counseling is offered in Indiana, New York and Pennsylvania.

Hyman said clients have the option of taking an in-person training, which consists of an eight-hour course, or they can take an online course from eHome America. eHome America is a certified provider of online homebuyer education.

For the in-person class, the requirement is an eight- to ten-hour day. Hyman said she tries to include guest speakers, such as real estate agents or lenders. The course is held every other month or sometimes quarterly, depending on the demand for it. Hyman estimates there are 8-18 students in each class.
If the client chooses to take the online course, Hyman said, a staff person schedules a one-on-one call to discuss the course material and answer any questions the client has. Hyman said the benefit to the eHome course is it allows people to take the course at a convenient time for them.
Like PathStone, Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Richland County also offers an in-person homebuyer education course as well as the eHome course. NHS of Richland County covers several counties in Southwest Wisconsin, including an area where homebuyer education was not offered.

Linda Smith, NHS of Richland County homeownership center coordinator, said they offer in-person courses, and they attempted to offer distance learning classes. The distance courses were broadcast from the main Richland Center site to remote sites, typically high school classrooms, in neighboring counties. Smith said because broadcasting the course was too staff-intensive, and there were technology problems, the remote course was cancelled. They are now using eHome America for their customers who cannot attend the course in Richland Center, which has gotten a great response. “eHome, because we are rural, is a good fit. It fits the needs for many of our households, especially the younger households who cannot attend classes at night or on the weekends,” she said.

Like PathStone, NHS requires customers who have taken the eHome course to have a phone conference with a staff person.

Gary Throckmorton, eHome senior executive vice president, said eHome’s model is a network of local agencies. “We want the customer to be connected to a local agency. Follow-up is key,” he said. eHome has had steady growth, he said, and approximately 250 agencies are registered with over 36,000 clients served since 2009. Throckmorton expects growth to continue, especially since online education has become more accepted. eHome is currently offered in English and Spanish, but Throckmorton said adding additional languages would be considered if there was a demand.

eHome America was started in May 2009 by Community Ventures Corporation (CVC), a Kentucky-based non-profit. It is endorsed by NeighborWorks America.

Monday, May 13, 2013

NeighborWorks D.C. Headquarters Move Information

Photo of author Alexandra Chaikin
By Alexandra Chaikin,
Online Media Project Manager
We're in our new offices! The D.C. staff is in our new office and all systems are back online, including email and website functionality. There may, however, be delays with getting changes made to is forthcoming on how D.C. phones will work.

If you are sending any physical mail to the D.C. office, fear not. All mail will be forwarded to our new address for several months. In fact, we'd prefer you use the current D.C. address until May 28. The new address will be 999 Capitol Street N.E., Suite 900, Washington, D.C. 20002.

During the blackout, I'll be managing our Facebook and Twitter channels so you will be able to ask questions and get help that way. We are investigating the situation with D.C. telephones.We'll keep you posted. We anticipate phone services to our field offices will be unaffected, though their email will be down as part of the network blackout.

If you need to contact one of our field offices, use this phone directory on Google docs

Thank you for your support and understanding!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

NeighborWorks Rochester Expands Healthy Blocks Approach

By Ascala Sisk, Senior Manager
Neighborhood Stabilization
NeighborWorks America

Reposted from

NeighborWorks Rochester has partnered with residents in three neighborhoods to make exterior home improvements, address quality of life issues, and attract new residents and investment. Through this targeted “Healthy Blocks” approach, homeowners, tenants and landlords work together to create neighborhoods of value and choice.

After eight years of sponsoring “Makeover Madness” home beautification campaigns, organizing social events, planting gardens, sponsoring neighborhood clean-ups, and promoting new neighborhood branding, the Healthy Blocks approach has proven to be successful in improving physical conditions, creating pride, and fostering a community identity. For example, in “The Pocket,” a 7-block neighborhood of 750 residents in the East Main–Atlantic area, NeighborWorks Rochester has observed that physical conditions are improving, the average sales price is up 20 percent since 2008, and homes on the market sell in an average of 18 days as compared to 27 days in 2008 — all signs of a rebounding housing market.

Building on this success, NeighborWorks Rochester is considering candidates for its next two Healthy Blocks initiatives. To help with the selection and to train new staff members on the core components of this approach, NeighborWorks Rochester CEO Kim Brumber turned to David Boehlke, the nation’s leading Healthy Neighborhoods strategist. Joining them over the course of two rainy days in January 2013 were representatives from NeighborWorks Western Vermont who wanted to learn how they might apply this thinking to their own newly selected target neighborhood in the town of Rutland.

With a healthy dose of offbeat humor, Boehlke stressed the need for strategies that are grounded in market realities and build confidence among existing residents. “Markets need to be built,” he said, “not just houses.” This is especially true in cities with stagnant or declining populations where potential homebuyers have many homes and neighborhoods to choose from. In order to compete, you need to reposition your neighborhood in the marketplace. Building confidence in the future of the neighborhood validates people’s choice to live there, creates pride, and encourages investment because it makes economic sense.

So, how do you build confidence? A lot of it has to do with image and physical conditions. Neighborhoods with houses that are reasonably well-maintained and have tidy gardens and litter-free streets instantly convey that this is a neighborhood where current residents succeed, and where future homeowners would want to buy. But according to Boehlke, the key to building confidence is engaging residents and building their capacity to manage day-to-day neighborhood issues. Ultimately, people are more likely to invest in areas where residents work together to improve the quality of life.

Homes in Rochester
As NeighborWorks Rochester considers its next Healthy Blocks, it will select neighborhoods where resident engagement activities and modest investments in home repairs are likely to leverage additional investment. As the team from NeighborWorks Western Vermont also learned, Healthy Blocks’s focus on building markets, improving image and physical conditions, and fostering resident leadership offers lessons for other organizations that are designing place-based revitalization strategies.

To learn more about the Healthy Neighborhoods approach that David Boehlke created and teaches, take a look at his monograph, Great Neighborhoods, Great Cities, written about the Healthy Neighborhoods approach in Baltimore for the Goldseker Foundation.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Woodstock Commons Matters!

By Kevin O'Connor, CEO, Rural Ulster Preservation Company

Last week, RUPCO celebrated the long anticipated opening of Woodstock Commons. We marked the occasion with a ribbon cutting ceremony and invited the public to an open campus on Friday, May 3.

Remarkably, it was exactly 10 years ago, in May of 2003, when the phone rang. It was Bob Young, then chair of the Town of Woodstock's Affordable Housing Committee calling to ask if RUPCO would please come to Woodstock to build some affordable housing. After all, Bob said "We've had an affordable housing committee in this town for the better part of three decades and we can't get any affordable housing built."
Believing that home matters, we said yes. And we were pleased to have the early support of NeighborWorks America, which provided important pre-development financing to really get the project moving.

Today, Woodstock Commons shines as an intergenerational campus of 53 homes for seniors, working families, and artists clustered on seven acres of a 28-acre site nestled behind the Bradley Meadows Shopping Center. The 1-, 2- and 3- bedroom homes are energy efficient employing a ground-based, geo thermal system to provide central air heating and cooling. The homes are connected to the municipal water and sewer systems and feature walking trails that link, for the first time, the established neighborhoods of Playhouse and Elwyn Quarry Lanes. The buildings' handsome and unique design features vaulted ceilings, metal roofs, fiber cement siding, bamboo flooring and ample windows. Senior residents enjoy three separate community rooms while a large community building centers the campus as a gathering place for all residents. Each apartment is visitable by offering a grade level entrance and first floor, wheelchair accessible bathroom. The site is expected to earn two Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications from the US Green Building Council: one for New Construction and the other for Neighborhood Development.

So why does it matter?

For each of us, home is at the center of our everyday life; it's where each day starts and ends. Home is where we play, where we rest and are nourished. It's where we teach our children and gather with friends and family. It's where we are inspired and where our dreams take root. We know from experience and research that stable homes lead to healthier lifestyles, more individual success, higher student achievement and safer communities.

To be sure, the homes at Woodstock Commons matter greatly for the first group of residents lucky enough to be chosen in the lottery. They are now living in affordable, healthy, energy efficient homes near the hamlet, enabling them to achieve greater well-being. With truly affordable rent & utilities, residents will have more disposable income for the other necessities of life. Children have others to play with and they can be proud of where they live. Seniors can visit easily with their friends and a walk in the woods lies just outside everyone's front door!

Ask Mercedes, a wonderful artist and longtime Woodstock resident, whose last apartment was mold infested and causing her to be ill, how much her new healthy home at Woodstock Commons matters. Ask Mandara, a senior artist originally from Mexico who works at the Woodstock School of Art if her new home matters. Mandara had been renting a tiny studio apartment and paying more than half of her income in housing costs. Today she has a beautiful sunny, one bedroom apartment and pays 30% of income for rent. Or ask David, a part-time Town of Woodstock employee whose partner Christina is eight months pregnant if these homes matter. Prior to moving to Woodstock Commons, they were renting another apartment in Woodstock that didn't have a functioning bathroom!

Woodstock Commons matters not just today but for decades to come, as these homes will continue to provide affordable and stable rental housing for hundreds of individuals and families from Woodstock and the region.

Woodstock Commons matters to Woodstock.

From now on, the Colony of the Arts can boast that it has affordable housing for town employees, other working families, seniors and artists! And not just run of the mill housing, but the best kind of affordable housing - the kind that doesn't look like affordable housing! Don't take my word for it. A couple of weeks ago, a vendor came to the site for the first time. He followed directions to the site but when he drove in, he thought to himself, "This can't be the affordable housing in Woodstock, It looks like high end housing." So he got back into his truck and drove back out to the entrance to check the sign, to see if he was in the right place. And of course, he was. When he told me this story, it really made my day!

While the process to get here was certainly long and arduous, in the end, these homes matter because of the lessons they have taught. They demonstrate that communities can indeed build quality affordable housing. They show that a thorough review process does lead to a better outcome but they are also testament that local review processes can and must become more efficient, less redundant, less costly and take less time while still achieving community goals.

It's an understatement to say that the homes at Woodstock Commons would not be possible without an incredible array of board members, staff, professional consultants, colleagues, elected & appointed officials, funders, lenders, supporters and residents (for and against) who played a role or otherwise engaged in a difficult process that produced the outstanding results you see today. The list of people and organizations to which RUPCO is indebted is long indeed and I hope to be able to express my overwhelming feeling of gratitude to many this week.

Home is something special & personal to each of us. Of course, it's many things. Here's one thing that home will always be to me: Home is where - as a young boy - my mother told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be. Think of everything home means to you and I hope you agree, home really matters.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Reflections on Superstorm Sandy After Six Months

by Deborah Boatright, northeast regional director, NeighborWorks America

Six months after Superstorm Sandy rocked the coastlines of New Jersey, New York City and Long Island, NeighborWorks America and its affiliates remain deeply engaged in helping homeowners and businesses to recover and rebuild. We are committed for the long haul; with our sights set on strengthening community resiliency in an era of climate change. 

Over the past six months, NeighborWorks America educated more than 750 contractors and homeowners at 13 mold remediation trainings, six of which were co-sponsored with NeighborWorks affiliates. A fully updated “Navigating the Road to Housing Recovery Guide”, providing “road maps” to residents on rebuilding, repairing, selling, relocating, buying or renting, was released in March, and 90 counselors and nonprofit professionals were trained in its use. The Navigating Guide and Mold Remediation tools are downloadable from our website:

NeighborWorks America’s northeast regional headquarters is located in lower Manhattan, and our local staff has been steeped in recovery and resiliency discussions throughout the region. Our office was closed for four months due to flooding. Staff came back to a changed landscape. Many of the small stores that surround our building have yet to reopen; and the South Street Seaport, a major tourist attraction and hub for small businesses, remains shuttered. Similar conditions exist in other hard hit commercial areas along the region’s vast shoreline. 

Wayne Meyer, president of NeighborWorks affiliate
New Jersey Community Capital, was one of a dozen
people honored this week at the White House as
a Superstorm Sandy “Champion of Change for
the organization’s REBUILD New Jersey Fund.

This is a pivotal time in recovery and rebuilding, as congressionally appropriated resources are becoming available for deployment, and the private funding community is more organized and focused. NeighborWorks America has a unique role to play, utilizing our nationally regarded expertise in training, community building, impact measurement, capacity building and grant making. Our affiliates are doing great work, guided by a deep commitment and astute professionalism that is the hallmark of NeighborWorks. It is challenging work in the communities that we have all long called home.   

Wayne Meyer, president of New Jersey Community Capital (NJCC), was one of a dozen people honored this week at the White House as a Superstorm Sandy Champion of Change for the organization’s REBUILD New Jersey Fund. The REBUILD New Jersey Fund closed 23 loans totaling $800,000, preserving 135 jobs for customers like Architectural Hardware in Jersey City, New York, a family owned and operated distributor of metal and wood doors, frames and hardware for more than 40 years. Architectural Hardware had up to 56 inches of water, and lost a great amount of inventory and all its vehicles. Their loan allowed the owners and their nine employees to get back to business through the purchase a new forklift, replaced inventory, and replenished revenues.

In Monmouth County, New Jersey, homeowners and residents seeking help with their housing situation continue to come to the Affordable Housing Alliance’s offices daily, and the organization has seen a rise in the number of applicants for assistance through their statewide utility relief program.  Fifteen of the 17 mobile homes purchased by this NeighborWorks affiliate are now installed and on the way to full occupancy, and the  remaining two, accessible units for people with disabilities, are arriving soon. The Alliance’s work is featured in a compelling video by the Robin Hood Foundation, focusing on the story of Kanseisha Wilson, a home health aide and mother of two. 

Neighborhood Housing Services of East Flatbush, part of NeighborWorks affiliate NHS of New York City, opened a Housing Recovery Center in Brooklyn’s Canarsie section. Homeowners there were able to re-occupy their homes only after the City of New York’s rapid repair program addressed their most emergent needs.  Permanent repairs remain to be done, and funds are in short supply. NHS’ experienced contract management specialist has helped 57 families to assess their homes and plan for appropriate repair, and the organization secured funds for small grants of $10,000 to help offset the costs. Qualifying counselors assist families to negotiate insurance claims, address mortgage issues and avoid scams, which are rapidly growing. The innovative program was recently featured on NY1.

"It is important for Asian Americans for Equality to be there because
people in the community trust us. Our physical presence shows we are
there for the long haul,” said Raquel Colon, senior housing counselor.
Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) is working heavily in Queens, Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island with a focus on Asian Americans and new immigrants. AAFE has stationed staff at local grassroots organizations in Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay to strengthen their capacity, while offering grants, low interest loans, targeted technical assistance and one-to-one financial counseling to impacted homeowners and small businesses throughout the city. To date, over 160 businesses from all over the city have received loans totally $3.2 million from AAFE’s small business affiliate, and more than 200 walk-in clients were served just at one Emergency Help Center in Flushing, Queens. AAFE too is deeply concerned with scams and predatory contractors, and plans to review contractor records and work claims for homeowners. 

“There are three big issues that we are facing in terms of recovery. Clients are being advised to elevate their homes, flood insurance rates are sky high now, and people need guidance and direction on how to navigate the bureaucracy. It is important for AAFE CDF to be there because people in the community trust us. Our physical presence shows we are there for the long haul,” said Raquel Colon, senior housing counselor. 

Wade attended a Hope for Homeowners event
sponsored by NeighborWorks America,
Hope Now Alliance, Community
Development Corporation of Long Island
On Long Island, which has the largest number of FEMA applicants of all three areas, Community Development Corporation of Long Island’s Sandy Housing Recovery Program is working extensively in seven towns throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. CDCLI is currently focused helping 143 clients to create individual plans to address their immediate and long term housing needs, and is making their full array of housing services available. Insurance and mortgage issues related to the storm are prevalent—49 of their current clients are also receiving help with these issues.  Amityville resident Harold Wade, who came to CDCLI at a Hope for Homeowners event, typifies many homeowners: “"I was under water in two ways, both from Sandy and financially," said Wade. "It’s a long road ahead but it’s my opportunity to start over again."