Grants rebuild lives and neighborhoods across U.S.

Neighborhoods across the U.S. are being revitalized through work done by housing nonprofits — funded in part by grants from Wells Fargo Housing Foundation’s Priority Markets program.

February 3, 2015

Amanda Blakey’s new home is gradually rising from the dust of a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, neighborhood that was destroyed by a massive flood more than six years ago.

The 29-year-old single mom and volunteers from the Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity have worked for nearly a year to build her first house. They expect to finish making that dream come true this spring.

“My whole life I’ve always lived in an apartment,” says Amanda, who sells advertising. “I never expected to get this kind of opportunity. I’m feeling so blessed right now.”

Projects across the U.S., such as the rebuilding work in Cedar Rapids, have received tens of millions of dollars from Wells Fargo Housing Foundation’s Priority Markets grant program.

In late 2014, the foundation gave grants worth $6 million to 54 nonprofits — bringing the total to nearly 300 grants worth more than $30 million since 2009, when the program started.

Amanda Blakey and her Habitat for Humanity mentor Diane Nichols pause while working on the home.
Amanda Blakey and Habitat for Humanity volunteers work on her new home.
Millicent Brown built her home in Omaha, Nebraska, with the help of Habitat for Humanity.
A newly renovated home in Kountze Park stands next door to one not yet renovated.
Amanda Blakey (left) and her Habitat for Humanity mentor Diane Nichols pause while working on Amanda’s new home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Amanda Blakey (far right) and Habitat for Humanity volunteers work on her new home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Millicent Brown built her home in Omaha, Nebraska, with the help of Habitat for Humanity of Omaha and a Wells Fargo Priority Markets grant.
A newly renovated home (right) in Kountze Park stands next door to one not yet renovated.

Kimberly Jackson, executive director of the housing foundation, calls the Priority Markets effort “a catalyst for bringing together community stakeholders with shared interests, who are producing sustainable results and making a difference for communities.”

The Cedar Valley Habitat agency received $100,000 in the latest round of grants, making it possible to complete the construction of Amanda’s home and a half-dozen others, says Jeff Capps, the agency’s executive director. His agency has now received more than $200,000 from Wells Fargo since 2009 — the vast majority of it from the Priority Markets program — making Wells Fargo one of the agency’s top supporters, he says.

“Amanda’s home, as well as most of the others under the grant, is being built as part of our ongoing effort to rebuild affordable housing in the core Cedar Rapids neighborhoods,” Jeff says. “It’s been exciting to see community supporters and families eager to reinvest in these neighborhoods, and we’re starting to see some of them come back stronger than they’ve been in years.”

Rehab in Silicon Valley

As the Cedar Valley Habitat agency is rebuilding Cedar Rapids, the Housing Trust Silicon Valley, based in San Jose, California, is using its $100,000 Wells Fargo grant to rehab homes for low- and moderate-income residents in one of the richest areas in the U.S.

Despite being a high-tech home of billionaires, Silicon Valley has its share of poverty, homelessness, and people struggling to hold onto their homes, agency officials say. Wells Fargo is a major player in financing the housing trust’s revitalization efforts, which also include mortgage payment assistance and financial education. In all, the trust has received nearly $2 million from Wells Fargo over the past decade.

“This latest contribution will allow Housing Trust to help low-income homeowners make crucial repairs to their homes this year, and it is a testament to the growing relationship between the Housing Trust and Wells Fargo,” says Kevin Zwick, the agency’s chief executive.

The home rehab program grew out of a successful volunteer event in 2014, according to Stephanie Lahat, development manager for Housing Trust.

Volunteers turned out in droves and worked on many homes that needed repairs. It was clear to the agency that this should be a regular program — the only thing missing was the financing, she says.

“We have many people at the other end of the income spectrum from what you’d expect in Silicon Valley,” Stephanie says. “They work for modest wages in jobs that keep our region going as a community, but to have a place to live they are forced to find substandard housing units, share homes with other families, or spend hours each day in long commutes. If they are fortunate enough to own a home, there are no dollars available for repairs.”

Smiles in Omaha

In Omaha, Nebraska, Wells Fargo’s most-recent $200,000 Priority Markets grant is helping Habitat for Humanity of Omaha revitalize a distressed urban neighborhood called Kountze Park.

Overall, the agency has received more than $625,000 over the past five years for revitalization efforts.

“This will really bring a smile to my face. Honestly, I am so happy,” long-time resident Edwina Sheppard says. “I never thought I would see this area get redeveloped.”

Millicent Brown, a Habitat homeowner in Kountze Park, says, “I started in May of last year doing my sweat equity, helping build houses, and I learned a lot of things [about owning a home]. Now I’m paying for mine so I have something to pass on to my grandbaby.”

Contributors: Anne Oberlander
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