Housing Groups Plan Partnership
Original Article Published by The Chronicle Tribune written by Ted Tedeschi and can be viewed here.
When different local organizations are tackling the same topic, efforts with the same goals can sometimes become siloed and not have as great of an impact on the community.
Aware of this fact, several housing-focused agencies in the community are aiming to work together and combine their efforts with the goal of ensuring more safe, quality housing in Grant County.
At last week’s Grant County Substance Abuse Task Force meeting, Affordable Housing Corporation (AHC) Development Director Mikayla Marazzi, Habitat for Humanity of Grant County Executive Director Brittany Howey and City of Marion Neighborhood Association Coordinator Kayla Johnson spoke on their respective organizations’ efforts as well as a plan for more intentional collaboration.
Marazzi explained that while people often think AHC is part of the Marion Housing Authority, it is its own standalone community housing development organization, a designation that allows it to access certain funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
One of AHC’s efforts is a HUD-certified counseling service, with five counselors on hand to assist individuals on a variety of topics including rentals, foreclosure prevention, home ownership and more, Marazzi said.
“We are open to doing housing counseling for anyone in the community, and it is free. We’re funded by HUD to provide this service to our community members,” she said. “Sometimes there is cost involved for pulling a credit report, but depending on the individuals’ income level that’s something that could be waived. So just know that our doors are always open.”
Marazzi said AHC also offers a program called Individual Development Accounts for community members living below the poverty line. The match savings program offers a $4 state match for every $1 the participant saves up to $6,000, and the accounts can be used for expenses including buying a home, college tuition, emergency car repairs and more.
“It’s a steal,” Marazzi said. “So right now I believe we have two open accounts, and so often people will stay in this program for many years because it’s a long term pathway to building assets.”
Marazzi said AHC also partners with the state to operate the Indiana Foreclosure Prevention Network locally to work with lenders and homeowners to attempt to keep people in their homes. Mortgage assistance is offered through the hardest hit funds, she said, and about 15-20 homeowners per grant cycle are able to repair roofs, HVAC units and other home projects through the owner-occupied home repair program.
“I think it’s just important to note that we all want people to be able to stay in their housing situations as long as possible,” Marazzi said. “It’s not good for the community when evictions happen or when there’s high turnover in units, and it’s not good when homes are getting foreclosed on and then those homes are going to the bank...If people can have access to a home that’s safe and stable and clean, I think it makes a really big difference, and that’s what we’re here for.”
Howey said there are some persistent misconceptions about Habitat’s mission as well, with some believing the organization gives people homes for free. She noted Habitat homeowners must go through an application process, meet certain requirements and then pay back a 15- to 30-year mortgage once the home is built.
“Our mission is seeking to put God’s love into action,” she said. “Habitat builds homes, communities and hope, so we fit into the community and hope sector by making these partnerships and meeting these needs that aren’t just homeownership.”
Johnson said the city is promoting Project 365, an effort to make neighborhoods safer through the installation of porch lights, adding address numbers to houses that are easy to read from the street and generally improving curb appeal. She noted well-lit communities tend to have lower instances of nefarious activity, and first responders can get to an emergency more quickly when address numbers on streets are prominently displayed.
To help encourage curb appeal improvements, Johnson said the plan is to approach Meijer and Walmart for gift card donations to help spruce up homes and give officials a foot in the door to talk with residents about housing issues they have and build relationships.
Howey said partnering with AHC and the city came from an identification that there were gaps in services offered by Habitat, including emergency housing and landlord-tenant mediation. Through a Third Path Grant, Johnson said the three organizations plan to work together to get into the more “messy” issues of housing.
Johnson said this effort will include focus groups and listening sessions with tenants and landlords, seeking to dive deep into various situations and offer available resources. A “Good Neighbor Academy” is also in the works, where individuals would learn how to be a better tenant.
On the flip side, Johnson said the organizations plan to also look into landlords who are taking advantage of tenants and advocating for tenants who are in such a situation.
“A lot of our policies in the state of Indiana move towards anything that becomes legal are more in favor of the landlord in that situation, so trying to just collect those stories and just advocate toward policy change in that degree,” Johnson said.
Marazzi said a recent data analysis of local evictions showed the situation is more complex than just landlords abusing the system or tenants being delinquent on rent, and the partnership will seek to dig deeper into these underlying issues.