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.
1. The second phase of our Affordable Rental Program will be completed in late 2015 with an additional four apartment units on Carmel Street.
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.
It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to serve an organization that has made a real difference in the lives of hundreds of clients and their families through its various homeownership programs. I choose to volunteer and be a part of NHS because caring for the well-being of others is important to me, as is making homes affordable to those who may not otherwise have an opportunity to own a home. Stabilizing and revitalizing our neighborhoods makes our communities safer and addresses the problems of many homes that are in need of extreme rehabilitation. I am deeply grateful to NHS for achieving its goals and touching the lives of so many people.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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