Keeping Faith with the Future of the Northwest Bronx by working to preserve, create and finance affordable housing
1998 marks the 15th anniversary of University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP). UNHP has made great strides as an organization in those 15 years; refining its mission and tailoring its activities to respond to the affordable housing needs of the Northwest Bronx. This past year has been especially fruitful in our work to create, preserve and finance affordable housing in the Northwest Bronx. UNHP has forged new relationships with housing lenders, obtained essential funding for affordable housing projects, and built upon past successful organizing initiatives in pursuit and advancement of our mission.
University Neighborhood Housing Program was created in 1983 by Fordham University to assist in community based housing preservation activities. In 1988, the NWBCCC, which had a nationally recognized Reinvestment project to develop affordable housing projects with bank and public funds, became the second member of UNHP. This collaboration allowed UNHP to build on the history and success of both organizations to develop new models and sources of financing to support affordable housing in the NWBronx. UNHP quickly succeeded in obtaining lines of credits from banks and institutions to support affordable housing redevelopment. UNHP immediately began making loans to tenant and community based corporations to purchase multi-family buildings; the staff worked with the new owners to re-pay the acquisition loan and renovate the building with participation loans involving the City of New and a bank.
UNHP has expanded its loan products beyond the initial interest only acquisition loans that were instrumental in the quick purchase of threatened privately owned buildings in the late 1980’s. UNHP has provided longer term financing, bridge financing and more recently equity financing for community ownership projects. UNHP has provided lending and technical assistance to 47 community ownership buildings in the Northwest Bronx. UNHP works to provide financial services to the community based affordable housing market in the Northwest Bronx. This housing is most often multi family properties that are owned by a not for profit entity and has a tenant association organized by a local community group. This housing is most often housing that was severely deteriorated, financially unstable, formerly owned by the City of New York or by a private owner on the verge of or in foreclosure by the mortgage holder. It is this type of housing that is most often not considered viable by private investors and yet presents a real opportunity to community organizations for ownership and affordable housing creation. This type of housing is also home to tenants that do not have other housing options.
Technical Assistance to tenant groups, affordable housing managers, not for profit housing companies and community organizations has become a significant part of our work. UNHP has assisted groups by providing management and fiscal services, staff trainings, and direct intervention with specific buildings issues that affect affordability. UNHP has reviewed the financial standing of properties, packaged rehabilitation loans, addressed specific problems, like confusing water bills or a high tax assessments and provided basic management and building repair workshops for housing managers and superintendents. When necessary, UNHP provides more intensive technical assistance to housing organizations; in such cases UNHP has provided oversight, financial analyses, tenant services and back office support.
Due to our hands on, often intensive technical assistance and project monitoring work, UNHP has been able to recognize issues that affect and impact housing affordability. UNHP seeks to address these issues by clearly identifying the problems and potential solutions. UNHP identifies and addresses through organizing these emerging issues by regular publication of its newsletter, Notes, and sponsoring of local neighborhood meetings. UNHP addresses the broad issues that impact affordability, such as national housing policy as well as local issues, such as program, policy, and legislative changes.
In recent years, UNHP has begun working more closely with local area residents, including many tenants of community controlled housing, to work on issues that are affecting their lives; the success of community controlled housing clearly depends upon the quality of life of the members of the community. Many members of that community are confronting loss of jobs, cuts to public assistance and/or a lack of rent subsidies. The physical requirements and the social aspects of the housing are equally important in community controlled housing. The economic ability of tenants to remain in that housing, the services that they may need to remain in the community, the base of support necessary to sustain and create housing programs, and the level of assistance needed by local not for profits to maintain the community housing that has been developed are inter-related issues.
Lending and Housing Technical Assistance Work
Tremont Anthony Community Ownership Project Last year UNHP brought to closing, after 5 years of predevelopment, the Tremont Anthony Community Ownership project. UNHP acted as developer for the project and was able to address lead poisoning risks, negotiate the purchase price, obtain additional grant and low interest resources, complete the construction on time and at cost and preserve the affordability of the rents. This year, UNHP applied for and was awarded an allocation for the New York State Low Income Housing Tax Credit. These hard to obtain credits will provide the financing to undertake additional rehabilitation items, repay subordinated acquisition financing and enhance the project’s affordability.
The Tremont Anthony project was highlighted at UNHP’s 15th Anniversary celebration held on May 27th at the Rosehill Campus of Fordham University. UNHP presented community ownership awards to those who worked together to accomplish this deal; The Sisters of Charity provided the low interest funds that became the equity in the project, Freddie Mac agreed to a negotiated purchase price and subordinated debt, Dougert Management worked extremely well with UNHP’s project managers to control construction costs, checker board tenants and complete the project on time and at cost, Senator Al D’Amato worked to keep Freddie Mac in the deal, Chase Manhattan bank for their financial leadership, the provision of low interest funds to support the acquisition price and their acceptance of non tradition equity financing and The City of New York provided Home funds and conceded to expand the scope of work to include lead hazard removal. Finally, the tenants were honored at the celebration for their efforts to improve the building and surviving the substantial rehabilitation while in residence.
UNHP Green Loan Fund Creating new sources of financing for Northwest Bronx multi family buildings has been a part of our work since 1988. The UNHP Green Loan Fund created with a grant from the Joyce Mertz Gilmore Foundation and a low interest loan from the Bankers Trust Foundation, has grown from ,000 in 1994 to its current size of over ,000. This year, UNHP has issued 10 green loans that have assisted over 316 units with over ,000 in loan funds. The UNHP Green Loan was created to provided below market financing for cost saving security and conservation improvements. The low interest loans with an average 5 year term are repaid out of the savings generated by the improvements.
Mini Loan Program On June 26th, Fannie Mae launched a Million dollar Mini - Loan Program targeted at multifamily properties that are small in size (5 to 25 units) and require ,000 to 750,000 in financing. While UNHP does not directly provides loans from this program, UNHP, working with leaders from the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, was instrumental in the creation of the program. University Neighborhood arranged meetings between local not for profit housing companies and landlords of small properties with Fannie Mae and other lenders to formulate this lending program. UNHP will circulate information about the project to Bronx community organizations and owners.
Home Ownership Work UNHP has extended its work with multi family buildings to one to four family homes in the past two years. Our experience with multifamily lending and housing issues, especially our work with water and sewer rates lead us to believe that this expertise would be useful to homeowners. UNHP also felt that we could play a role connecting renters who could afford a mortgage for not much more than they are paying in rent and homes that are vacant or in deteriorated condition in the neighborhood. UNHP has run workshops for current homeowners on refinancing, and managing home maintenance and operating costs. In August of this year, UNHP sponsored a workshop for potential homebuyers of a fixer upper home. Over 100 residents attended this workshop that covered the benefits of a purchase renovation mortgage, criteria for financial readiness, the importance of a complete professional physical inspection for a home that needs repair, the benefits of a homebuyers education program and the perils of predatory lending. UNHP is looking forward to following up with workshop participants.
Organizing and Outreach
Welfare Reform and Family Daycare In most of the community controlled housing we work with at least 30% of the rent roll is supported through public assistance or section 8 rent subsidies. The impact of welfare time limits and future possible cuts to the Section 8 program are going to be a tremendous blow for both the housing and the residents that participate in these programs. Last year, UNHP organized a welfare reform committee comprised of neighborhood leaders and women on public assistance. In September 1997, the welfare reform committee met with HRA Deputy Commissioner Helen Stirling. The meeting was attended by about 70 residents and the committee was well prepared to present their recommendations. The committee presented testimony and demands on child care, workfare activities and training for caseworkers. Agenda demands included the creation of a rights sheet and database on childcare availability for public assistance recipients, the creation of new childcare services through new centers and increased funding and training for family daycare, administering of employment counseling and assessments and changes to workfare and OES appointments and improved training for caseworkers.
Based on our welfare reform work, UNHP identified that childcare as a critical issue for families trying to go back to work and/or mandated to work. Family daycare has become increasingly important as welfare recipients are mandated to work and funding for new center based care is not available. UNHP sponsored a meeting with local center daycare providers, developers of affordable housing, neighborhood leaders and community groups to discuss childcare options. In addition to exploring additional locations for center based care, and the creation of additional after school programs, the group talked about supported family daycare through neighborhood network. In community Board 7 there are only three ACD Childcare centers and over 14,000 children on public assistance. The Daycare center at Concourse housing has a waiting list of 300 children. Given the lack of funding and demand for daycare at local centers, UNHP began to investigate the status of regulated family daycare in the neighborhood. In an effort to access the status of family daycare providers in the Fordham Bedford neighborhood of the NWBronx, UNHP staff undertook a phone survey of 88 family daycare providers in 3 NWBronx zip codes. UNHP obtained the list from the Department of Health for registered (licensed) family daycare providers. UNHP was able to reach 64 providers from the list. On April 20, 1998 UNHP sponsored a meeting for daycare providers. The meeting was attended by over 50 providers who shared concerns about the difficulty of getting on Agency for Child Development approved lists, the need for health benefits, getting and keeping clients, obtaining benefits, participating in a network and the need for training. The providers who attended the meeting were primarily Spanish speaking, registered as daycare providers with the Department of Health, and open for business. The most suprising result of the survey was that no more than a handful of providers were actually caring for children. Given daycare waiting lists and that the NWBronx has a 99% unmet need for daycare the lack of clients for local daycare providers was a shock. The meeting highlighted the need to form a group and work together to improve these home based businesses, not only to improve the economic viability of the individual businesses, but to increase much needed quality daycare in our community.
University Neighborhood Housing Program, through active outreach and organizing, has assisted in the formation of this group of Family Daycare providers, self named, Proveedoras Unidas, operating in the Fordham Bedford neighborhood. Proveedoras Unidas, meets two times a month and has over 30 members. Proveedoras Unidas has formed by-laws and an ambitious agenda of goals set out to increase their businesses, form a network, obtain training and create links with community institutions and public agencies. UNHP is looking forward to assisting this group accomplish their goals in order to strengthen the economic opportunities for the daycare providers and to increase the availability of affordable quality care in the neighborhood.
Lead Poisoning Prevention and Asthma Management UNHP has provided seven Family Health Watch Workshops throughout the year at central neighborhood locations. These workshops provide information on lead poisoning prevention and asthma management. In addition to these workshops, UNHP has reached close to three hundred people through specific lead poisoning prevention workshops. UNHP has worked with local organizers to provide lead hazard control information to tenants living in deteriorated buildings, provided a refresher lead control course for superintendents in community controlled buildings, given a specialized course for family daycare providers to control lead hazards in their businesses and provided a training session for homeowners highlighting lead poisoning prevention during home maintenance. At one workshop a woman attended because her grandchildren had been lead poisoned. A UNHP staff person helped to organize the other tenants in her building to get the owner to correct building wide deterioration and poor services as well as the lead hazards. UNHP will continue with this important outreach and organizing effort in the coming year. UNHP also received funding to create a business plan for a locally based lead abatement and housing maintenance business.
15th Anniversary Housing Forums
On April 3rd UNHP hosted its first housing forum on New York City’s Selective Vesting Pilot Program. Over 50 people attended the forum from a range of real estate interests; not for profit organizations, private owners, financial institutions and tenant groups. William Frey of the Enterprise Foundation and Ted Weinsten from HPD provided information about the developing pilot project and their perspective on the program. Students from NYU Law School presented their analysis and suggestions for program improvement. The forum concluded with a half hour of questions from the attendees. UNHP sees that program with a few modifications as an opportunity to expand community ownership and create affordable housing in the neighborhoods where the program is used.
UNHP’s second affordable housing forum was held on May 8th at the Lincoln Center Campus of Fordham University. Filling the Gap: What is Needed to Continue Preserving Affordable Housing, focused on approaches to affordable housing development that work today with current resources and ideas to make current resources go further. Over 40 people attended this forum, again from a wide range of real estate interests. This forum was less technical that the first but included specific costs saving ideas, programs for financing, as well as concerns about the impact of cuts to public programs which created an outline for affordable housing preservation. The feedback from participants on these forums was positive. UNHP sees the purpose of these forums as providing housing information and developing an agenda to increase citywide efforts to preserve programs and develop new initiatives for affordable housing.
Looking forward to 1999, University Neighborhood is putting together a new low interest loan fund, known as the Short Term Interest Rate Reduction (STIRR) Fund. This fund would provide 2 to 5 year financing to community controlled housing projects that have stabilized their finances and need to refinance high interest back payments on taxes or water and sewer charges. The STIRR Fund would join the UNHP Green Loan Fund and Community Development Loan Fund as a source of financing to preserve and create affordable housing. UNHP will continue to support home based family daycare businesses, foster home ownership, and provide lead poisoning and asthma prevention workshops. UNHP will present a housing forum on the downside of rising housing values and has plans to formalize a network of non-profit and for profit managers and owners to continue to build awareness on housing issues. UNHP is also assisting in the formation of a not for profit housing company to protect existing community controlled housing and spur new development.