Only six months after it was first announced, a nationwide rural housing rehabilitation initiative has already made a meaningful difference in the lives of seven families in New York’s North Country, the Housing Assistance Program of Essex County (HAPEC) said today.
On July 27, 2015, the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation announced it would provide $1 million to NeighborWorks America for the national nonprofit’s new “Safe & Sound” rural initiative. The collaboration aims to help strengthen rural communities and improve lives by rehabilitating substandard owner-occupied homes and bringing them up to state and federal codes.
After a nationwide selection process, HAPEC was selected to receive one of nine $128,000 Safe & Sound grants. HAPEC put the funding to work helping seven North Country households: five in Essex County and two in St. Lawrence County, with the help of a partner organization. Executive Director Alan Hipps said HAPEC was grateful for the opportunity to make a measurable difference in these families’ lives.
“I think our selection for this grant demonstrates that HAPEC has a strong commitment to housing preservation, and there is clearly a very substantial need here in the Adirondack region,” he said.
Hipps noted that residents of rural Essex County face unique challenges financially, contending with everything from low incomes to high home heating and transportation costs. Those factors, along with an aging population and a high owner-occupancy rate, make housing needs the foremost economic issue for most local families.
Hipps said the projects were selected from HAPEC’s list of applicants, some of whom have been eligible for years. The Wells Fargo “Safe & Sound” grant funds were therefore put to use as soon as practicable. All seven projects will be complete by the end of the year.
HAPEC has been able to leverage additional monies from New York State to assist its clients with other critical services, including default and foreclosure intervention, Hipps added. HAPEC’s Foreclosure Prevention Counselor Michelle Bashaw said some of the families helped by the “Safe & Sound” grants also benefited from these state funds. HAPEC is a HUD-certified Housing Counseling Agency and regularly works with local residents to help resolve their home financing problems through education, credit counseling, and assistance in working with banks.
The Essex County projects funded by the Wells Fargo/NeighborWorks America “Safe & Sound” grant are located in Crown Point, Jay, Westport, and two in the town of Lewis. In a county where more than half of all homes are over 50 years old, houses often have substantial maintenance issues. Each of the “Safe & Sound” grant projects made critical home repairs which halted ongoing deterioration, improved safety for the occupants and addressed all building code issues.
HAPEC plays an active role in housing rehabilitation and preservation in the North Country, and has now helped to renovate about 16 percent of all Essex County owner-occupied homes. The work brings with it a notable local economic benefit. In 2011, HAPEC undertook a study of this impact which showed that over that single year it facilitated $920,000 worth of home repairs which produced 12.7 direct and indirect jobs and $1.3 million in regional economic output.
HAPEC is a charter member of NeighborWorks America, a nationwide network of organizations dedicated to improving lives and strengthening communities by providing access to homeownership and safe, affordable rental housing. For more information about the NeighborWorks America’s Rural Initiative, visit neighborworks.org/Community/Rural.
Since its inception in 1993, the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation has invested more than $150 million in support of affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization efforts along with mobilizing more than 4.6 million volunteer hours to build and rehabilitate more than 5,500 homes and counting.
“The Wells Fargo/Neighborworks America “Safe & Sound” grant program, together with the funding we are getting through New York State, is making a real difference for North Country residents. HAPEC is proud of the results we are achieving through these partnerships,” Hipps said.