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 2015-2016
Between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven and the New Haven HomeOwnership Center:
Goals in 2016-2017
1. Partner with lending institutions to create attractive downpayment assistance resources for prospective homebuyers.
2. Complete gut rehabilitations on 12 properties in our target neighborhoods
3. We will continue to motivate and engage residents through the creation of block watches, neighborhood associations, and volunteer events.
4. Complete analysis of Success Measures survey and compile into a report to share with donors, grantors, our clients, neighbors, and the general public.
1. Identify new
subsidies to continue to sustain our rate of development for affordable housing.
2. Increase and strengthen partnerships with local organizations to engage more residents in our target communities
3. Raise addition $25,000 for special community engagement projects
4. Increase individual donations through participation in peer-to-peer fundraising during special events and a comprehensive donor communications plan
5. Create office space to accommodate the growing business of HOC Realty
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.
My wife and
I had moved into New Haven in 1999 and I was interested in the city and the
resources available its residents and the surrounding communities. In 2010, a
group of my colleagues at Yale-New Haven Hospital were looking for an
opportunity to do a volunteer project in New Haven. I hadn’t heard of Neighborhood
Housing Services of New Haven before, but something about the way their bird
sanctuary project was described had our group of volunteers voting for it.
I learned that NHS had not only provided affordable housing, they also continued to provide on-going home maintenance classes, in addition to one-on-one counseling and support for all clients seeking to qualify, purchase, rent, or maintain ownership of their home. I grew interested in doing more with NHS and ultimately, they invited me to participate as a board member. These years have gone by quickly as NHS has grown, expanded, and met the ever-changing needs of residents. In January 2017, the board of directors elected me as President. This is a tremendous honor and opportunity to serve NHS.
As with any non-profit organization, NHS faces challenges, including dwindling public and private contributions and identifying new donors to replace the shortfall. Not to mention the challenging economic times we are facing as our state and federal funding options are constantly being challenged. We are a member of NeighborWorks® America and for the first time, we have been singled out as due for federal budget cuts.
Additionally, while it’s clear that NHS has a presence in New Haven and that that presence is growing, it initially took me 11 years to find this gem; and there are many more to make the same discovery. With the right support, this is an area of communications that can be addressed more effectively. There are too many who don’t know about this wonderful organization.
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 and Phase II of the program in December 2015. Our Phase II property is a four-unit building on Carmel Street, and has been rehabilitated to 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. Please note that our affordable rental budget is included in our affordable housing development budget.
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. We rely on corporate and foundation contributions and grants, supplemented by the generous support from individual donors.
James Paley has been executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven for the past 37 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 Capital for Change for referrals of prospective homebuyers.
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 20 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.
Greater New Haven’s vibrancy is linked to its communities’ support of its neighborhoods, public gardens and sports, as well as its commitment to the protection of its people and pets.
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