Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Data on Affordable Rental Housing is Mixed at Best

Photo of Eileen Fitzgerald
By Eileen Fitzgerald
Chief Executive Officer
NeighborWorks America
NeighborWorks America underscored its commitment to affordable rental housing this week at the launch of the 2013 State of the Nation’s Housing report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) at Harvard University.

I had the privilege of joining Eric Belsky, the director of the JCHS, and a panel of experts to talk about housing. While homeownership continues to draw the most attention, what is going on in the rental housing market demands attention.

The information on affordable rental housing in America is mixed at best, and for millions of households the data are troubling. According to the report, the number of renter households severely burdened by their monthly rent payment increased by 2.6 million between 2007 and 2011. Between 2001 and 2011, the number grew by 6.7 million. According to the State of the Nation's Housing report, which cites consumer price index data, rent increases have been far outpacing overall inflation.

As a national community development corporation that helps a network of nonprofit affordable rental property owners, we think these numbers are further proof of how important it is to continue supporting the development of affordable rental housing.

The NeighborWorks network owns or manages more than 102,000 rental homes. These locally owned and managed nonprofit corporations are committed to building more affordable rental homes, and to buying more properties that may become market rate after affordability provisions related to their development expire. More than ten percent of affordable rental homes are taken out of the affordable ranks each year.

NeighborWorks America will continue to be there for the NeighborWorks network by providing an average of $15 million in flexible capital to these owners of affordable rental housing. But our funding for affordable rental homes needs to be leveraged with long-term private sector funding. Affordable rental housing can’t be created and sustained by just one source of capital.

I urge everyone who cares about affordable rental housing to download the latest State of the Nation’s Housing report and to watch the recorded webcast (see above) of our discussion of the report on Wednesday, June 26.

Friday, June 21, 2013

NeighborWorks America Teams Up With Neighborhood Housing Services of Oklahoma City to Help Tornado Victims

By Brian Levinson, public affairs and communications advisor for the midwest region, NeighborWorks America

A fireplace is all that's left of this house in Moore, Oklahoma
Photo credit: Travis Marak

Soon after tornados struck Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, the extent of the devastation was apparent. Entire blocks and neighborhoods were flattened or heavily damaged, including two elementary schools, and 24 people were killed. Less than two weeks later, a second twister with winds exceeding 200 mph struck western Oklahoma City and El Reno, Oklahoma. It killed more than 20 people and went on record as the widest tornado ever recorded.

When the first storms hit, NeighborWorks America staff immediately reached out to Roland Chupik, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Oklahoma City, to check on staff and clients. As Chupik received preliminary damage estimates, he quickly focused his team on immediate housing issues: helping residents deal with FEMA, insurance companies, mortgage lenders and other organizations that were providing financial assistance.

“The emotional impact of losing your home is almost impossible to imagine. Most homeowners are overwhelmed with that loss, which can make it difficult to shift gears to start the recovery process,” Chupik said. “The NHS staff was not directly impacted by the tornados and has the expertise helping clients deal with government agencies and lenders, so we immediately jumped into action and offered our help to homeowners applying for assistance and completing insurance claims.”

Then, Chupik and NeighborWorks America staff focused on the next need: temporary housing. With 12,000 homes damaged and 1,400 destroyed, creating additional affordable housing units became critical. NeighborWorks America gave NHS of Oklahoma City a $100,000 grant to begin repairs on 15 foreclosed properties donated by J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America.

Front Row, right to left:  Corinne Cahill, deputy regional director, midwest region, NeighborWorks America;  Janet Barresi, Oklahoma State superintendent of public instruction;  Roland Chupik, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Oklahoma City (NHSOKC);  Elizabeth Jones, City of Moore director of community development
Back Row, right to left:  Wiley Rice, chairman, board of directors of NHSOKC;  Linda Rowe, director of home ownership, NHSOKC;  William Fulmer, housing director, NHSOKC;  Ashley Dickenson, neighborhood capacity builder, Neighborhood Alliance of Oklahoma City;  Jared Jakubowski, City of Moore special projects coordinator.
“The NeighborWorks grant will help us immediately start fixing up these homes so that some of the families who lost their homes can have a place to live,” Chupik said. “It will also help us pursue funds from private funding sources, so that we can rehab all 15 homes as quickly as possible.”

The third phase of the recovery effort is focused on a critical, long-term need: storm shelters. NeighborWorks America is working with all three network members in Oklahoma – NHS of Oklahoma City, Community Action Project of Tulsa and Little Dixie Community Action Agency in Hugo – to develop a strategy for building storm shelters for existing single-family home and multi-family projects, as well as incorporating storm shelters into future developments.

John Santner, Midwest Region director for NeighborWorks America, said the collaborative and multi-pronged approach to dealing with the housing needs reflects NeighborWorks America’s commitment to working with local groups who are in the best position to assess community needs, and addressing affordable housing needs in a way that has a long-term, positive impact on residents.

“We are eager to help our Oklahoma network members respond to these devastating storms in a comprehensive way that creates more and safer affordable housing in the communities they serve,” Santner said.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Federal Home Loan Bank and NeighborWorks America

This blog post is republished from the Federal Home Loan Bank for Communities website.

The Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLBank) has been the catalyst for many achievements during its history, but one of its more notable efforts is also one that’s unknown to many people outside of the affordable housing industry.

This year, NeighborWorks America is celebrating its 35th anniversary as one of the country’s preeminent leaders in affordable housing and community development thanks, in part, to the FHLBanks. In the early 1970s, a community leader named Dorothy Richardson began pushing for more reinvestment in the inner-city neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. Eventually she connected with FHLB Pittsburgh and other lenders to create a revolving loan fund. The success achieved in Pittsburgh attracted attention from others across the country, which led to the creation of the Urban Reinvestment Task Force in 1973. Five years later, Congress chartered the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation which is known today as NeighborWorks America.

Curt Heidt, 
vice president of external relationsFHLB Des Moines
FHLB Des Moines has partnered with NeighborWorks America since its earliest days and continues to work closely with the 17 NeighborWorks Network groups in the  FHLB Des Moines district. Prior experience with NeighborWorks organizations provided Curt Heidt, vice president of external relations, FHLB Des Moines, and Gary Dodge, director of community investment, FHLB Des Moines with community development education. Both previously served as executive directors of Neighborhood Finance Corporation in Des Moines, which subsequently became a chartered member of the NeighborWorks Network and is now a Community Development Financial Institution member of FHLB Des Moines.

Leon Gray,
NeighborWorks America
management consultant
In 2006, Heidt received the Visionary Partner Award from the regional staff of NeighborWorks America in honor of his efforts to create innovative partnerships and solutions to the affordable housing challenge. In addition, Leon Gray, a NeighborWorks America management consultant in the Midwest Region, serves on the FHLB Des Moines Advisory Council and many executive directors of NeighborWorks Network organizations serve on advisory boards in the Des Moines and other FHLBank districts.

“I began my community investment career as a volunteer for NeighborWorks organizations in the 1980s. NeighborWorks America is an outstanding organization and one that FHLB Des Moines is proud to partner with both nationally and regionally,” Heidt said. “NeighborWorks America provides critical resources to community-based groups across the country to help them be more successful.”

John Santner, Midwest Region director for NeighborWorks America, said the organization is proud of its long relationship with the FHLBanks. He noted that NeighborWorks America gives an annual award in honor of Dorothy Richardson that serves as a perpetual reminder of the organization’s roots and ties to the System.

“Our partnership with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, as well as with the FHLBank System, is critical to our ability to meet the needs of NeighborWorks Network organizations,” Santner said. “By partnering with organizations, like FHLB Des Moines, NeighborWorks is able to leverage our funding for a much greater impact on community revitalization and affordable housing efforts across the country.”

FHLB Des Moines and NeighborWorks America work together in a variety of ways that benefit both organizations and the many groups they partner with in the region. Nationally, the FHLBanks ensure member banks are connected to non-profit organizations in their communities. For NeighborWorks America affiliates, partnerships with local FHLBanks help them to learn about FHLBank programs and also give their own programs and events a wider audience. Detailed information on the impact of NeighborWorks Network organizations in the FHLB Des Moines region of Iowa can be found at

Check out the infographic to view the partnership’s impact.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Homeownership the NeighborWorks Way: Prepare, Invest and Retain

Marietta Rodriguez
By Marietta Rodriguez
director, National
Programs & Lending

Every June is National Homeownership Month. While the most recent housing crisis has perhaps put homeownership into question, homeownership provides many benefits to homeowners and to communities. Sufficient preparation when considering homeownership is critical. We like to call the services NeighborWorks provides homeownership the NeighborWorks way.

While homeownership may not be the right choice for every person at every stage of their lives, homeownership is an important cornerstone of our communities. And NeighborWorks America and the NeighborWorks network are trusted resources for homeowners, creating thousands of homeowners each year. In 2012 NeighborWorks America and the NeighborWorks network helped 15,000 homebuyers achieve their dream of homeownership.

For 35 years, NeighborWorks America and the NeighborWorks network have provided access to homeownership and to quality housing in thousands of communities across the country. The more than 240 NeighborWorks organizations across the country provide current and potential homeowners a suite of specialized homeownership programs and services. These include an analysis of homebuyer readiness, comprehensive education on the homebuying process, one-on-one financial coaching, important information about the availability of possible financial assistance with down payment and closing costs, and access to affordable mortgage products.

Preparing for Homeownership with Pre-Purchase Education 

Successful homeownership requires more than just having enough money on hand. It’s about knowing how to navigate the home buying process, what to expect once you become a homeowner, and having a reliable partner to turn to when questions come up. For example, for many homebuyers, pre-purchase homebuyer education and counseling is a critical component to successful and sustainable homeownership.

NeighborWorks organizations, located in every state, are a great place for prospective homeowners to start because they help individuals become mortgage-ready and better equipped to manage the process. Counselors work with individuals to ensure their credit profile reflects strength and help identify experts who could explain what kind of maintenance – immediate or long-term – the home may need.

It is important to remember not all mortgages are created equal. NeighborWorks counselors can help potential homeowners secure a mortgage suitable to their current needs. In addition, NeighborWorks services offer a free or low cost alternative to  higher cost services,  and that’s an important distinction. Ultimately, it’s a NeighborWorks homeownership counselor’s goal to make sure that each homeowner is matched with the right homeownership products. In 2012 NeighborWorks organizations provided nearly 122,000 individuals and families with education and counseling services.

Providing Help through a Network of HomeOwnership Centers

NeighborWorks America’s National Homeownership Programs offer technical assistance and grants to our network that, in turn, provide a continuum of strategies to help ensure successful, sustainable homeownership for people of modest means in every state. There are more than 100 NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Centers around the country, and many offer affordable first and second mortgages. They are “one-stop” shops for prospective homebuyers and homeowners. Customers can access all of the services and training necessary to shop for, purchase, renovate, maintain, and manage a home. To locate a NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center, visit here.

NeighborWorks America knows that for many individuals the road to homeownership can seem, at times, challenging. But dependable NeighborWorks staff work hard every day to make the dreams of homeownership a reality for thousands of individuals every year. Join us in celebrating those who will achieve their homeownership dreams in 2013 and help us ensure all those interested in pursuing homeownership know about homeownership the NeighborWorks way: prepare, invest and retain!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Enterprise Rose Fellowship Redefines Community Design at NeighborWorks Organizations

Blog by Kat Miller, NeighborWorks Rural Initiative
Miller is an AmeriCorps VISTA and recent graduate of Smith College, where she studied architecture.

The Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship, is a highly competitive and innovative program that places some of the nation’s finest early career architects in underserved communities across the country to team up with community development host organizations. The program is headed by Enterprise Community Partners’ National Design Initiatives, which offers a variety of programs that help build capacity for design leadership across the community development field.

The Rural Initiative and NeighborWorks America staff with
Rose Fellow Mark Matel (left) at the Bartlett bus yards
NeighborWorks America is proud to have two Enterprise Rose Fellows currently working at NeighborWorks organizations: Geoffrey Barton at Mountain Housing Opportunities in Asheville, North Carolina and Mark Matel at Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.

By bringing designers directly into the communities in which they are working, the Rose Fellowship boosts an organization’s capacity to create affordable, sustainable, and well designed communities. We often think about design as being strictly aesthetic. Good design, however, must be measured more three dimensionally; as something that transforms not only appearance, but also performance. To achieve this, the Rose Fellowship boasts a bottom-up approach towards design. This approach rests upon three core principles:  design excellence, sustainability, and first and foremost, community engagement.
Mark has certainly embraced this bottom-up approach as Project Manager for Bartlett Place, Nuestra Comunidad’s new mixed-use development that is transforming a vacant eight acre bus yard into a “creative village”. Tapping into Roxbury’s rich artists’ population, Bartlett Place will offer a variety of public spaces, commercial storefronts, and housing types to both provide new opportunities for current neighborhood residents and attract new populations.

As Project Manager, Mark is involved with overseeing all aspects of the project ranging from site planning to real estate development to contracting, etc.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Bartlett Place, however, has emerged in between the planning and construction phases of the project. As a liaison between the production team and Bartlett’s primary client, the Roxbury community, Mark has facilitated “Bartlett Events,” as a platform to raise excitement and engage the community in the months leading up to construction. An of example of this is MuralFest, Bartlett’s kickoff event  where local artists came together to beautify the site with murals and sculpture, transforming the old Bartlett bus yards from a drab vacant field of asphalt into a vibrant arts/events space. This new space will be used throughout the summer to keep Bartlett alive until construction starts next fall.  

In addition to providing interim programming for the site, Bartlett Events is also being used as a way to test ideas that can be re-integrated into Bartlett Place permanently. In this way, Bartlett’s design process is fundamentally rooted in the community. 

Our visit to Nuestra Comunidad and the Bartlett Yards demonstrated that good community-based design is as much about dealing with social issues as it is about dealing with architecture and building issues. This concept is certainly evident in the community-based design work that Mark is doing at Bartlett, and is echoed across the country, where a legacy of other Rose Fellows tackle similar design issues in underserved communities. 

Take a look at what Rose Fellow, Geoffrey Barton, is working on at Mountain Housing Opportunities  (one of our newest additions to the NeighborWorks Rural Initiative!) and visit the Enterprise National Design Initiatives website to learn more about the fellowship and their other programs. Applications for the Enterprise Pre-Development Design Grant are now open and close on July 10.  

Monday, June 3, 2013

Finding a Purpose: How Vacant Buildings Can Support Neighborhood Marketing

Reposted from the Stable Communities blog

Finding new uses for vacant buildings is something many nonprofit housing organizations are getting good at, but some properties — like an abandoned movie theater — are harder to rework. With creative thinking, however, empty buildings can be used to spark new interest in old neighborhoods.

Last year, after looking closely at the prominent features of an old, vacant movie theater, NeighborWorks Waco (TX) decided that its brick interior and artistic vibe made the perfect setting for a “pop up” art exhibit. Now in its second year, Art on Elm Avenue puts this otherwise empty space to good use, and is helping the neighborhood to rebrand itself as an arts district.

Performance artistArt on Elm Avenue is a one-day event featuring 14 local artists and more than 10 local student artists. In addition to the exhibit, local bands provide live music, food and craft vendors sell food and handmade goods, and a local performance artist creates paintings with his bare hands and a spinning canvas (think Jimi Hendrix and Elvis). Kids’ activities include a bounce house, crafts, snowcones and popcorn, plus an 18-foot canvas mural project where kids develop the plan and create the mural with a touch of advice from volunteer art supervisors.

Each artist featured in the exhibit is allowed to bring up to three approved artworks, which may be two-dimensional pieces such as paintings, drawings, prints or photography, or three-dimensional works such as sculpture and ceramics. Artists are provided with a name plate next to their pieces and can list items for sale.

Art on Elm Avenue is free for both artists and guests. It’s a celebration of art and community that fits nicely into NeighborWorks Waco’s neighborhood marketing strategy. The event draws businesses, entrepreneurs and residents who may not otherwise visit this area, and also celebrates local culture and supports the neighborhood’s plan to become an arts district. It builds community relationships and puts vacant space to positive use. “This event brings everyone together from all parts of Waco,” says Honey Jenkins, NW Waco’s director of marketing. “It draws people of all ages and from all walks of life to Elm Avenue, and helps them to see what it used to be and what it can become.”

Art on Elm participantsThis year, Art on Elm Avenue took place on the same weekend as one of the city’s monthly musical events — an Eddie Money concert — so the two groups decided to co-market their events as part of a larger celebration called "Weekend in Waco.” Linking the two events in marketing helped boost attendance; more than 2,500 people attended this year as compared to about 500 last year.

To learn more, visit the Art on Elm Avenue Facebook page or follow events on its Twitter feed.