Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven positions neighborhoods to succeed by making homes beautiful, energy-efficient, and affordable while helping residents take charge of their neighborhoods.
Accomplishments in 2014-2015
1. Between September 30, 2014, and October 1, 2015, NHS and the HomeOwnership Center:
2. In 2015, we continued using the Success Measures surveys to assess resident satisfaction. We evaluated perceptions of neighborhood safety from residents and non-residents as reported in our Community Celebration survey. We also facilitated a self-assessment for the members of Hill-based support group The Woman I Am to enable the focused growth of their community programs and determine how NHS can continue to support these resident leaders.
3. NHS successfully increased enrollment in its post-purchase home maintenance and energy savings classes in the past year. As we continue to enhance our marketing and branding efforts, we anticipate that our classes will benefit an increasing number of people.
4. In 2014-2015, NHS launched its Affordable Rental Program in its pilot stages with six apartments on Edgewood Avenue. We have decided to permanently integrate affordable rentals into our affordable housing development, and to take on rental projects at a steady rate of one project per year in order to maximize our impact on the neighborhoods. Phase II, a four-unit building on Carmel Street, will be ready for occupancy in December 2015.
Goals in 2015-2016
1. We will produce 21 housing units for low- and moderate-income families in our targeted neighborhoods.
2. We will continue to motivate and engage residents through the creation of block watches, neighborhood associations, and volunteer events.
3. We will expand our outreach through increased marketing, public relations, and use of social media while also collaborating with local schools and church groups in the greater New Haven area.
4. We hope to complete the third phase of our Affordable Rental Program, a four-unit building on West Hazel Street, in late 2016. This is contingent upon receiving the subsidies necessary for a project of this scale.
1. Increase programmatic funding and resources so that we can continue to serve the needs of homeowners throughout the Greater New Haven area. (Our goal is to raise an additional $750,000 in 2015.)
2. Identify and receive sufficient development subsidies so that we can successfully carry out the complete “gut” rehabilitation of the properties in our inventory. (We currently need to raise approximately $2.25 million in subsidies per year.)
3. Acquire houses for our affordable housing development program (both for homeownership and affordable rentals) through a collaborative relationship with area banks and mortgage servicers in neighborhoods targeted for revitalization
4. Achieve a higher level of resident engagement so that neighborhood residents, combined with the police force and partner organizations, will help to lower crime rates in our targeted neighborhoods to an even lower rate in 2016.
5. Solidify our relationship with the New Haven Police Department to ensure that our efforts have the back-up support of the police. (We must see more visible signs of police presence in the neighborhoods in which we are working, both day and night.)
The presence of under-maintained, investor-owned multifamily properties in our target neighborhoods has created another impediment to our ability to implement a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization strategy. In light of this, Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven has recently launched an Affordable Rental Development Program to provide high-quality rental housing for families that do not care to purchase a home or cannot afford to purchase a home. These small multifamily properties are located in close proximity to the houses we have rehabbed or will soon be rehabbing for homeownership, and increase the impact of our reinvestment in the neighborhood.
I first became involved with NHS of New Haven when I became one of their first loan clients more than 30 years ago. I was so pleased with their willingness to help that I spread the word about them and referred several people to them. Then I became more and more involved, serving on their Board of Directors as a neighborhood resident representative and eventually becoming the Board President. This has been a very exciting journey for me, and I consider it an honor to serve this organization.
NHS has grown and changed a lot over the years, but it is as committed as ever to helping the neighborhoods and residents of the New Haven community. I have watched our community building and organizing department go from hosting one volunteer event per year to now hosting more than 20 per year. We have now rehabilitated more than 450 units of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families. Our home maintenance and energy conservation classes promote sustainability and cost-savings measures for all homeowners. We also continue to train our staff and board members who attend professional development, skill building, and career enhancement workshops.
One of the major challenges we face at the present time is acquiring houses for rehabilitation at a reasonable cost. We are unable to compete with investors for houses that we wish to incorporate into our affordable homeownership development program. In addition, the overall economy has resulted in several of our donors reducing the amount of their annual support. In spite of the ongoing pressure that we feel on our annual budget, NHS will continue to be a strong and vital organization that keeps its focus on our corporate mission.
Our current inventory of properties includes seriously deteriorated homes in the Newhallville, Hill, and Dwight/Edgewood neighborhoods of New Haven. The dual purpose is: 1) to provide affordable homeownership for low-income, first-time homebuyers; and 2) to stabilize neighborhoods by reducing the number of boarded-up and abandoned properties and rehabbing them for homeownership.
The homes we sell are designed to be long-term assets for both the homebuyer and the neighborhood. We consider the cost of operation and maintenance in the affordability calculations of all of our projects. Because we install all new systems, our homebuyers are generally not confronted with any major maintenance costs for 7-20 years, depending on their usage and upkeep habits and the items in question. Green technologies also keep monthly maintenance expenses within the new owners’ budgets. NHS has been lauded by NeighborWorks® America as maintaining the highest rehabilitation standards in the industry.
Our projects effectively reduce the maintenance and repair costs that jeopardize the affordability of the homes we sell. With energy prices and property taxes rising, NHS reduces the overall cost of occupancy and maintenance. All key structural features are replaced with new high-performance building elements that are durable and affordable; our menu of enhancements includes: new roofs, heating systems, insulation, windows, plumbing and electrical systems, kitchens and bathrooms, floor coverings, extensive exterior repairs and repainting.
Our rehabilitation work has a direct impact on the safety, stability, and general well-being of the community. Our projects reclaim the grossly overgrown and littered yards at each of the houses comprising this initiative. The surrounding lots are transformed into landscaped outdoor space for our homebuyers. In addition, the improved exterior adds significantly to the overall livability of the streetscape and eliminates blight in the neighborhood.
To be successful, we must: 1) transform the image of the neighborhoods in which we are working and create a positive perception of the areas; 2) demonstrate an improvement of the physical condition of the housing stock in the areas we are targeting; 3) produce a stability in the values of the homes in the neighborhood; and 4) motivate resident engagement so that all stakeholders in the community take part in the overall revitalization of the area.
As stabilization efforts take hold in the neighborhoods, we begin to arrest the falling housing values and homeowners are no longer “under water” (when the outstanding principal balance on one’s mortgage exceeds the value of the property). Rehabilitating vacant and foreclosed homes reverses the decline in housing values and creates equity for homeowners who are then motivated to reinvest in their homes.
Our work complies with the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund Residential/New Construction Program. We test for and abate lead and asbestos according to HUD guidelines under the supervision of the New Haven Health Department.
We also look at cost indicators such as how much a family pays for homeownership vs. what was paid in a rental unit on a per-square foot basis. We compare utility costs to accurately assess the financial advantages of purchasing an energy-efficient home. We also look at the asset-building nature of homeownership for our clients. Asset building is measured by the equity that a homeowner has in his or her home. Equity has two components: actual equity, measured by the amount of principal that has been repaid on one’s mortgage, and imputed equity, measured by the capital appreciation of one’s home over time. By stabilizing a neighborhood and improving overall perceptions, we increase property values and help to create an appreciating asset for our homebuyers.
In 2014, the New Haven Police Department identified Lilac Street, between Winchester Avenue and Newhall Street, as one of the highest-risk “hotspots” of crime in Newhallville. In 2015, we successfully secured 4 new homeowners for NHS-developed properties on this block of Lilac Street. This is evidence of rapidly changing perceptions of the neighborhood and of residents’ commitment to reinvesting in their community. Although crime remains a risk factor, we have made significant strides in transforming Newhallville into a “neighborhood of choice.”
As part of our Community Building and Organizing efforts, NHS administers the Revitalization Demonstration Project (RDP), which is a holistic approach to developing resident leadership and stabilizing the neighborhoods in which we are working. We help to stimulate proactive engagement so that neighbors will motivate each other to keep their streets clean and safe. Essentially, we combine the acquisition and physical rehabilitation of our properties with our community building strategies to create the infrastructure that will ensure sustainable revitalization.
The objective is to reinforce, augment, and perpetuate the benefits of sustainable homeownership for all neighborhood residents. By encouraging cohesive neighborhood relationships, NHS establishes an environment of communication and collective action and inspires homeowners by actively connecting them to each other, to other organized civic groups, and to the resources necessary for effective and sustainable community development.
The goal of our Community Building and Organizing initiative is to create a proactive community base of individuals who will be effective in implementing identified revitalization goals and strategies that facilitate neighborhood transformation. Our community building specialist motivates residents to assume responsibility for their properties and to become increasingly engaged in neighborhood-based activities that improve the cohesiveness of the neighborhood.
NHS helps to stimulate proactive engagement so that neighbors will motivate each other to keep their streets clean and safe, and become more involved in beneficial civic issues. Essentially, our goal is to combine the acquisition and physical rehabilitation of foreclosed or abandoned properties with our community building strategies to create the infrastructure that will ensure sustainable revitalization. Successful homeownership is not easily achieved if homeowners are unfamiliar with the myriad of responsibilities that come with maintaining not only the physical structure but also understanding how a property fits in with the structure of the neighborhood. Our homeowners strive for stability that should come naturally when they occupy their homes; because of our targeted locations, however, there are external factors, such as crime, drug activity, and vandalism that may impede their efforts to achieve this.
Progress will be measured by noting the number of residents we provide with leadership training and noting their progress toward creating self-sustaining neighborhood management groups. Another indicator of a well-organized community is the presence of resident-led infrastructure/neighborhood development through activities such as neighborhood clean-up days and tree plantings/landscaping on selected blocks. Our current RDP is in the Newhallville neighborhood where there is a serious need for a restored sense of confidence and energy if our efforts are to meet with measurable success. The objective is to establish a spirit of optimism that will overcome adversities caused by vacant and abandoned houses dotting the landscape of the neighborhood.
In 2015, our CB&O department has supported the Hill Gardening Club as it develops as a formal, functional resident-led group with a strong core of neighborhood support. Specifically, we have worked with the gardeners to host talks, film screenings, and book discussions at the Wilson Public Library, and to attract an increasingly broad community audience. As opportunities to discuss urban gardening and gardeners’ experiences, these events have helped facilitate community cohesion throughout the Hill.
The New Haven HomeOwnership Center is a HUD-certified housing agency that provides a variety of programs that serve the homeowner and the first-time homebuyer. Our Homeownership Preservation program includes full service foreclosure prevention and loss mitigation counseling to help current homeowners obtain affordable mortgages that enable them to remain in their homes and thus avoid foreclosure. And, we offer home maintenance classes to all homeowners who want to do their own repairs and upkeep of their properties.
Although NHS has long focused primarily on homeownership, we are well aware that there are many 3-6 unit properties in our target neighborhoods that are better suited for rental units. With New Haven having one of the nation’s tightest rental markets, finding quality, affordable apartments is a struggle for many families. NHS’ Affordable Rental Program enables us to accomplish two things simultaneously: 1) provide high-quality, affordable rental units; and
2) protect the integrity of our target blocks by adding a new component to our comprehensive neighborhood revitalization strategy.
We successfully completed the pilot stage of our affordable rental program in December of 2014. Phase II of the program is comprised of one four-unit building on Carmel Street. Expected to be ready for occupancy by December 2015, these units will be energy-efficient, affordable, and of the highest quality. NHS was also successful in acquiring a three-unit building on West Hazel Street, which will serve as the third phase of our Affordable Rental Program. Rehabilitating this property in time for occupancy in 2016 is contingent upon receiving the necessary subsidies.
The Rental Program is a pilot program. At the present time, it consists of two properties on Edgewood Avenue, which are currently undergoing renovations and should be completed and ready for lease-up in early 2015, and a four-unit property on Carmel Street, which should be ready by December 31, 2015. To succeed in our targeted neighborhoods, we need to address the pronounced issue of investor-owned rental properties that are under-maintained and used solely for income and/or capital gains. As we have examined our clusters in the past year, we have come to the conclusion that our overall influence on Newhallville, the Hill, and Dwight/Edgewood will be limited unless we are able to control some of the multifamily properties in these areas. Poorly maintained rental properties typically exhibit blight, attract crime, and inhibit the development of quality, affordable rental units in a neighborhood.
NHS is confident in its ability to implement this project. With 35 years of experience in the restoration of houses, we will renovate our rental units to the same standards of any of our homeownership projects. Because the rental units will be thoroughly renovated, we do not anticipate them causing any problems to our tenants. Our staff is always on hand to assist our tenants in the same way that we assist our clients who are in a lease-to-purchase arrangement with us. The qualifications of our staff and our organizational commitment to the well-being of our targeted neighborhoods will make this program a success.
These small multifamily rehab projects can and will integrate smoothly with our homeownership projects, helping us to maximize the impact of our cluster approach to revitalization. By acquiring small multifamily properties, we can lend additional stability to our targeted blocks, helping to link them together into corridors of healthy neighborhood activity.
NHS is committed to providing affordable, beautiful, and healthy housing for community members in need as a part of our comprehensive revitalization strategy. When we were approached by a single mother living in seriously substandard housing who lacked the means to obtain a quality rental unit anywhere in New Haven, we decided to lease one of our Edgewood units for a discounted rent that was significantly below the already affordable rent. At NHS, we know that helping New Haven residents obtain stability long-term requires an investment in community members.
The two greatest challenges facing Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven at the present time are the difficulty in raising sufficient operating funds and a declining housing market that has inhibited many prospective homebuyers from purchasing the houses we are acquiring and rehabilitating. Having unsold houses in our inventory ties up a great deal of our equity and makes it difficult for us to begin work on additional properties. Keeping sales prices as low as possible, to make each of the houses we are rehabilitating as affordable as possible for low-income homebuyers, prevents us from taking developer fees that would make this program self-sustaining. In addition, our organization does not have a steady stream of secure revenue that we can rely on each month. For example, we do not own or manage rental properties that would at least produce a fixed amount of rental income each month. We have no residential or commercial tenants; nor do we have fee income that is generated by our classes or workshops. We rely on corporate and foundation contributions and grants, supplemented by the generous support from individual donors. In general, the weak economy has made it difficult for us to obtain operating support from many of the sources on which we have traditionally relied over the years.
James Paley has been executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven for the past 35 years and executive director of the New Haven HomeOwnership Center since its inception in March 2001. Since earning his doctorate from Cornell University in 1980 (where his dissertation focused on residential mobility patterns in New York City), he has presided over a program that has grown from a small housing rehabilitation organization to a sophisticated housing development corporation that concentrates on neighborhood stabilization, affordable housing production, and homebuyer education programs. His professional expertise focuses on innovative financing packages; neighborhood revitalization strategies; homeownership education, counseling, and training; and project management. He currently serves as vice chair of the Board of Directors of Community Housing Capital (headquartered in Decatur, Georgia).
NHS works with the City of New Haven and the Connecticut Department of Housing to obtain down payment assistance for our homebuyers. We work with the Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund for referrals of prospective homebuyers. NHS is also a key partner with the Real Options/Overcoming Foreclosure (ROOF) Project, which raises awareness of foreclosure issues, coordinates assistance to at-risk borrowers, and develops strategies to stabilize neighborhoods.
NHS also collaborates with the City of New Haven's Livable City Initiative to promote community engagement and to fight blight in its target neighborhoods. Other partners for various programs, activities, and volunteer events include local lending institutions, the New Haven Preservation Trust, the Connecticut Green Building Council, the New Haven Land Trust, Solar Youth, Yale University, and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, among others.
Sound managerial direction, commitment from board members and experienced staff have all contributed to making NHS of New Haven the leading agency in Greater New Haven that promotes homeownership opportunities to low- and moderate-income residents. The executive director has 35 years’ experience researching and acquiring properties in target neighborhoods, negotiating with various partners (including the City of New Haven, banks, and other agencies that own residential properties in New Haven) to obtain the best prices, and obtaining the subsidies to write down the development costs. The director of design and construction has 17 years’ experience with NHS, overseeing the rehabilitation of each property, establishing the project timelines, designing the reconfiguration of the space (if necessary), hiring third-party contractors, and working with the City on zoning issues and permits. He manages a staff of three highly-qualified members of the rehab team who are involved throughout the various stages of each project. The community building specialist focuses his attention on outreach in the different neighborhoods where NHS is working. He supports block watches and neighborhood management teams, and identifies and addresses specific issues that may threaten a given community’s stability.
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
Our affordable housing development activities continue to face financial challenges, resulting from the deterioration of the houses we are acquiring and rehabilitating. Housing values in our target areas are finally rising, which is good for the overall market but also results in higher prices for the houses we acquire for rehabilitation and sale to our first-time homebuyers. Total development costs indicate that undertakings such as ours require extensive subsidies to keep the ultimate sales prices affordable to low- and moderate-income families. These challenges make the creation of sustainable, affordable homeownership opportunities all the more important if the low- and moderate-income families we serve are going to be able to take advantage of homeownership opportunities. NHS is also now providing affordable rental housing in selected sections of our target neighborhoods.
Despite these financial challenges, our investment in the properties we are acquiring is justified for two reasons: 1) Our mission is to provide affordable homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income families; and 2) The rehabilitation of blighted properties is part of a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization strategy that addresses the deleterious impact that distressed houses have on overall housing values and the stability of the neighborhood. The benefits of undertaking development projects that do not appear to be cost-effective are clear. While we cannot predict the future of development subsidies in times of budget deficits and government spending cuts, it is our hope that they will remain available as long as the need for affordable homeownership opportunities and the revitalization of New Haven neighborhoods persists.
A strong community not only meets its members’ basic needs but also works to create long-term solutions to their problems. Provide people with affordable housing, enough to eat and access to affordable health care and you enable them to envision a better future for themselves.
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