Local nonprofit housing association expands decades-old reach with three new properties
New Haven Neighborhood Housing Services celebrated another anniversary after acquiring three new properties from the city.
Staff Journalist and Contributing Journalist
Courtesy of Junyi Wang
Tamika Baines, a 40-year-old basketball coach, didn’t think she could ever own a home in New Haven, a city where she has lived most of her life.
But with the help of a local nonprofit — Neighborhood Housing Service, or NHS, of New Haven — Baines now expects to move into a new home on West Hazel Street in Newhallville.
On Monday, the NHS held its 43rd annual meeting at its headquarters at 333 Sherman Ave, celebrating the success of the organization and the community. Founded in 1979, NHS restores old, dilapidated homes and builds affordable new homes on empty lots, selling those properties at lower prices to help working families settle in New Haven.
On September 19, the sale of two vacant city-owned housing lots and a vacant NHS house to a reduced price of only $5,000 was unanimously approved by the New Haven Board of Alders.
“Affordable Housing Development and Community Stabilization [are] a key part of our mission,” said Carol Heller, deputy chair of the NHS board. “[We provide] education, working with home buyers, providing maintenance and energy training and training in efficiency, gardening and sustainability, resident leadership, working on community building projects and helping our neighbours, friends, co-workers and community members to realize the dream of owning and staying and retaining homeownership”.
According to James Paley, the organization’s executive director, the NHS completed the restoration of two homes in Newhallville last year.
The NHS also runs a HomeOwnership Centre, or HOC, which offers courses to guide and prepare individuals to buy their first home. Heller added that from 2021 to 2022, 954 new clients used Homeownership Center services, 835 new clients attended all Homeownership Center workshops, and 13 virtual organic gardening and permaculture courses were presented to 356 attendees.
Paley said that in the future, the NHS plans to begin restoration of the historic home at 470 Howard Ave., turning it into a home ownership opportunity for first-time buyers. They also hope to begin new construction of three two-family homes and one single-family home.
NHS uses a “cluster approach” in which it develops homes close to each other. Paley said it provided opportunities for residents to develop a stronger sense of community.
“[We are] work one-on-one with people who have purchased homes from us or who are simply people who own properties in the neighborhood, as well as people who do not own [property] and are tenants in the owners’ units,” Paley said. “We want to be able to strengthen neighborhoods by involving residents.”
Heller said that in 2023 the NHS will focus on expanding its work in the Hill area while maintaining its commitment to Newhallville.
Baines took four courses run by the NHS, which focused on first time homebuyers, landscaping, money management and becoming a homeowner. Baines said she was unaware of the resources available to her before taking these classes.
After school, she applied for a down payment assistance program run by the Connecticut Housing Financial Authority, as well as a program started by Governor Ned Lamont that offers first-time home buyers loans of up to at $50,000 in high opportunity areas and $25,000 in others. areas.
“[They help me learn] how to find grant resources for extra money for first-time home buyers,” Baines said. “They were very diligent and helped me research this information.”
Baines said a course for prospective landlords taught him tenant rights and the role of a responsible landlord. She now feels confident in her decision to become a landlord, she added, because she knows she and her tenants will have “stability, security and comfort”.
All courses offered by the NHS are free.
Local estate agent Herb Jackson also teaches courses through the NHS for first-time home buyers and first-time owners. Jackson said he first helps his clients assess how much they can spend on housing while having the budget for necessities and emergencies. Jackson then travels with clients through New Haven to find homes available for purchase.
Jackson said he stays in touch with his clients throughout the home buying process. As they begin to receive documents from different companies after buying a house, Jackson helps them decide which to respond to and how.
In recent years, housing costs in New Haven have continued to rise, Paley said, making it difficult to acquire inventory as homeownership and mortgage opportunities have dwindled. Still, Paley said homes sold by the NHS are typically 40 per cent cheaper than market price to ensure they are affordable for low-income families.
Billy Huang, the founder of Source Development Hub which develops platforms for providing resources for vulnerable housed people, said the percentage of New Haven residents who own homes is extremely low, especially for people of color.
Most New Haven residents must rent their homes. But Huang said home rentals are also becoming less affordable as big property managers continue to buy more homes in New Haven and gentrify neighborhoods.
According to Huang, the 2008 financial crisis made homeownership less stable for households, allowing property management companies to concentrate equity in their hands.
“And like [large property management companies] growing up, we’re basically losing individual landlords…and in many ways that’s bad for the tenants and it’s bad for the community,” Huang said. “It represents a huge risk because [companies] can then gentrify [communities] very quickly. There is a huge power disparity between tenants and landlords.
New Haven Stock Profile 2021a report published by DataHaven, found that 55% of renters in the city spend 30% or more of their income on housing costs.