‘Viewpoints’ invites guest authors from outside of Wells Fargo to share an important perspective related to their work. Today, we welcome Jeffrey T. Bryson, interim president and CEO of NeighborWorks America.
Since 1978, NeighborWorks® America has focused on creating opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, improve their lives, and strengthen their communities. With a network of more than 245 of the nation’s best community development organizations, we tackle some of the nation’s biggest housing and community development challenges in low- and moderate-income communities.
We build the skills, supplement the resources, and amplify the reach of these organizations so they can provide more housing opportunities, empower more individuals and transform more communities than they would be able to do on their own.
We also offer a comprehensive spectrum of courses to help professionals broaden their skill sets and make a meaningful impact when counseling homebuyers, coaching individuals with limited budgets, and preserving and redeveloping communities.
As we celebrate our 40th anniversary this year, NeighborWorks America is proud of our many accomplishments. Over the past four decades, we have invested approximately $70 billion in communities across the country, assisted 4 million families with affordable housing, and assisted or built homes for 731,000 families.
And over the past 10 years, we’ve ramped up our efforts to help families at risk of losing their homes, offering foreclosure mitigation counseling and legal services to 2.1 million households.
Strategies to ensure sustainable homeownership
For most working Americans, homeownership is the primary tool for building wealth. However, barriers to homeownership — such as saving for a down payment, lack of financial knowledge, and credit problems — can keep this important asset out of reach for many.
We know that successful homeownership begins with educated homeowners who have the tools, capacity, and options to make good choices about their homebuying decision.
To prepare borrowers for the responsibilities of owning and maintaining a home, we first require them to complete a homebuyer education curriculum. We also offer financial capability education — providing strategies to improve credit and better manage finances — to build a stronger economic future to those who do not currently qualify for a mortgage.
However, even with the proper education on what it takes to be a successful homeowner, saving enough money for a down payment remains the most significant challenge for many Americans. Many of our network members help alleviate this obstacle by providing eligible residents with down-payment assistance.
Our biggest supporter in this area is Wells Fargo and its NeighborhoodLIFT® program. This collaboration between Wells Fargo and NeighborWorks America provides down-payment assistance and financial education to make homeownership a reality for working families who qualify for the program. Last year the program added special benefits for military service members, law enforcement officers, teachers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians.
To date, the LIFT program has invested more than $372 million in 57 communities, creating nearly 17,000 homeowners and providing homebuyer education to more than 52,500 people.
Wells Fargo also supports our Safe and Sound program, which provides rehab and weatherization services for houses in rural areas. In its first two years, the program made badly needed improvements on 154 homes, increasing property values and enhancing quality of life for their owners.
Community resiliency in the wake of natural disasters
A natural disaster can devastate a community, especially when that community suffers from a lack of resources. NeighborWorks America stands ready to assist struggling communities when disaster strikes.
Just last year, our network moved quickly to respond to the devastation left behind by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, making $800,000 in grants available to 20 organizations in affected areas to help them with a variety of needs at the local level. Additionally, we provide volunteer opportunities for our staff to offer hands-on assistance in these areas.
And more than a decade later, we are still on the ground in areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as well.
Safe, quality rental homes matter for many
While creating a path to homeownership is a key focus of our organization, we also recognize that providing affordable rental homes is critical to the local workforce and the overall vibrancy and sustainability of communities.
Our goal: To make affordable rental homes rewarding for residents, communities, developers, owners, managers, and investors. To accomplish this, the NeighborWorks network invested more than $2.7 billion in affordable rental housing last year alone, supporting our member organizations with capital investment, tools, techniques, training, and other resources.
NeighborWorks organizations own and manage more than 165,000 high-quality, affordable rental homes nationwide. Many NeighborWorks-managed rental properties work to enrich residents’ lives by providing services such as financial education, after-school programs, employment training, and programs for seniors.
We want our member organizations to be the best affordable housing providers in the country and to serve as models for all other organizations offering affordable housing.
Across the spectrum of providing safe and affordable housing options in communities throughout the U.S., we look forward to continuing this important work for the next 40 years as America’s community development network.