Ken Wade, chief executive officer of NeighborWorks, said that the $100 million committed to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama can be leveraged into $1 billion in housing by beefing up nonprofits that will administer a variety of housing programs.
The office, dubbed NeighborWorks Louisiana, opened Monday at 1515 PoydrasSt., Suite 105, with James Ross, a native returning from Washington, D.C., acting as regional consultant.
Ross will run an information center that will help nonprofits and developers get needy individuals and families into homes and apartments. The center will help them provide credit counseling and other assistance, including grants and mortgage assistance.
The group was created in 1978, and Lauren Anderson, head of the Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans, a decades-old local nonprofit, has been working with NeighborWorks for years. NeighborWorks focuses on low- to moderate-income developments, but Ross said there could be some mixed-market projects financed by the group as well.
"They bring a lot of resources to the Gulf Coast," Anderson said. Besides the $100 million for housing, "their strongest asset is their training capacity."
In fact, about 2,000 members of NeighborWorks organizations from across America are in the city for one of four annual training sessions on fundraising, training programs, grant applications and other issues. They also spent days gutting new Orleans homes, points out CEO Wade.
But what the meeting here really does is bring together experts from nonprofit housing groups from across the nation who can advise Gulf Coast groups or individuals on everything from tax credits to financing to construction supervision. NeighborWorks often picks up the expense of bringing the expert to the particular nonprofit or project.
The group also wants to train 1,000 "resident leaders" in the Gulf Coast, activists who can recognize housing needs in their own neighborhoods and act as block captains in bringing assistance to those in need.
Further, Wade said that 100 scholarships to the next March training seminar in Atlanta will be awarded to members of nonprofits.
GULF COAST REGION TRAINING CALENDAR
For more information or to register for these events, call:1-866-861-7508
Normally, to participate in NeighborWorks programs, a group is thoroughly vetted.
"It's a process that can take three to five years" to earn the certificationof a "NWO," or NeighborWorks Organization, and there are 260 NWO-certified nonprofits across the country, Ross said.
Ross said that there are two NWOs in the region now, Anderson's and one inMississippi, and the goal is to create 10 NWO partnerships across the hurricane-ravaged coast.
Even groups that don't become certified NWOs are eligible for assistance because of the scope of the devastation, Ross said.The goal, according to Ross, is to streamline the vetting process and qualify either existing nonprofits or new ones for housing programs.
NeighborWorks has already spent about $5 million to date, $4 million directly toward affordable housing. NeighborWorks has already made a grant to Providence Community Housing, which is tackling 7,000 affordable apartment units through tax credits and other means. Providence is the affordable-housing arm of Catholic Charities.
The group could also provide equity for projects, along with grants, making the development easier to finance.
Further, its directors are all from U.S. Treasury agencies, which creates a comfort level with banks to do business with the NeighborWorks-backed nonprofits or projects. For example, Thomas Curry, director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is chairman of the board of NeighborWorks America and was in town Monday for the opening of Louisiana's first NeighborWorks office.
Ross said NeighborWorks will be in Louisiana and the coastal areas for years. "We've made the commitment to be here a number of years, as help is desperately needed. We'll provide leadership in rebuilding . . . We don't how many organizations (will end up being helped) or how long the(NeighborWorks) commitment will last, but we're in for the marathon, not the sprint."
In the past five years, NeighborWorks America has generated more than $10 billion in reinvestment and has helped an estimated 780,000 families purchase or improve their homes or find decent rental housing.