A city not-for-profit that has spent nearly 40 years rehabilitating historic houses and supporting stable homeownership in the city’s poorest communities is looking for another round of federal grant money to help it continue its housing renovation and education work in the Hill, Newhallville and Dwight neighborhoods.
Bridgette Russell and Elias Estabrook of Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) made that pitch during the Hill North Community Management Team’s regular monthly meeting in the cafeteria at Hill Regional Career High School on Legion Avenue.
Russell, the managing director of NHS’s HomeOwnership Center, and Estabrook, an AmeriCorps VISTA member in NHS’s Community Building & Development division, presented at Tuesday night’s meeting to ask the team for a letter of community support as NHS prepares its application to the city for $150,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for the coming fiscal year.
The city receives $6 million in CDBG funds every year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The city then distributes that money to local social service organizations of its choosing that work on affordable housing, care for the disabled and elderly, and neighborhood revitalization.
NHS’s CDBG funding request is actually twofold. One application is for $100,000 for NHS, which the organization would use to fund physical improvements for the 10 houses throughout the city that it is currently rehabbing. The other application is for $50,000 for the HomeOwnership Center, an NHS offshot that focuses on providing homebuyer education, financial counseling, mortgage intervention assistance, and other educational services for new and existing homeowners.
According to the latest city budget, NHS requested $100,000 in CDBG funding for the current fiscal year, and received $45,181. The HomeOwnership Center requested $50,000 in CDBG funding for the current fiscal year, and received $8,438.
Estabrook told the management team on Tuesday night that NHS has been focusing on Stevens Street in the Hill for a number of years.
Last year it finished a gut rehab of 12 Stevens St., a three-story wooden building that was first constructed in 1905 and fell into foreclosure and disrepair in the early 2000s on a city block that has long struggled with blight and violence.
NHS bought the house in 2012, installed new insulation and energy-efficient windows and rehabbed plaster walls. It sold the house to Courtney Walker, a first-time homeowner, in November 2017.
Estabrook said that NHS is now focusing on a vacant, dilapidated home just down the block at 29 Stevens St., which NHS purchased in 2014. He said that they were hoping to have that building renovation completed by the end of 2018.
“We’ve been working on Stevens Street for several years and we hope to continue making an impact with the houses we work on,” Estabrook said, “and also by working at the community garden and by participating in block parties.”
Estabrook said that each NHS building rehab project usually takes around $300,000 to complete.
After the meeting, Estabrook told the Independent that seven of the 57 New Haven homes that NHS has restored since 2010 are in the Hill neighborhood. All seven of those Hill homes are currently occupied. In addition to 12 Stevens St., NHS restored a two-family home at 422 Legion Ave. in 2010, a two-family home at 46 Frank St. in 2011, a two-family home at 311 Greenwich Ave. in 2012, a single-family home at 46 Stevens St. in 2013, a two-family home at 570 Howard Ave. in 2015, and a two-family home at 51 Frank St. in 2016. He said that 29 Stevens St. is the only home in the Hill that NHS plans on completing this year.
Russell followed Estabrook at Tuesday night’s meeting with a pitch for supporting funding for the educational services provided by the HomeOwnership Center.
“I want to make sure that people know their options so that they make the best choices in the process,” she said, “and so that they can be at the end of the day sustainable homeowners, not just people who are purchasing homes.”
She said that the HomeOwnership Center works with prospective homeowners on down payment and closing cost assistance, and offers homebuyer education classes and one-on-one consultations. She said that they see over 1,500 people every year for their education classes and individual financial consultations, and that they help produce around 200 new homeowners in New Haven every year.
“What is the process for becoming a homeowner through Neighborhood Housing Services?” asked management team chair Lena Largie. “Is there a first obligation to whoever lives in the community.”
“If we’re doing a house in the Hill, they don’t necessarily have to already live in the Hill,” Russell said. “But, whoever purchases the house has to be willing to be an owner-occupant.” She said that the money that NHS gets to do the development and to help with down payment and closing cost assistance all require that the recipient occupies the house after purchasing it.
She also stressed that NHS’s housing reach extends well beyond the specific building that they renovate. She said that the HomeOwnership Center’s educational courses and financial consulting services encourage homeownership throughout the city, regardless of whether or not the purchased homes were worked on by NHS.
“Our whole thing is really sustainable homeownership,” she said.
At the end of the meeting, Largie said that she is interested in supporting NHS, but that she and her leadership committee need to further review the handouts provided by NHS on Tuesday night before formally signing off on a letter of recommendation for the CDBG application. Estabrook said that the CDBG application is due at the end of January.