June 12, 2016

NeighborWorks Salt Lake makes lasting impact

NeighborWorks Salt Lake makes lasting impact
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By The West View

There is a yellow house on Montague Avenue in Glendale that is really more backyard than house, with chickens that wake up the entire block at 6:30 a.m. sharp every day. There are hot Japanese chili peppers, mint leaves, fruits and vegetables growing in the garden. This is my house.

It was the first home my immigrant mother bought in 1998 and the house my siblings and I were raised in. It is also where we learned that in the United States, neighbors are not just acquaintances, but family. This special connection between neighbors is common on the west side.

NeighborWorks Salt Lake, a local neighborhood revitalization organization, understands the unique character of west side neighborhoods. Their comprehensive mission of “...creating opportunities through housing, resident leadership and economic development...” is what sets them apart from other housing organizations and makes them effective at enacting change and building strong community ties on the west side.

Homeownership is one of the most recognized strategies that NeighborWorks uses to create neighborhood stability. “Homes can be a family’s greatest source of wealth or the first step towards building wealth,” said Executive Director Maria Garciaz.
NeighborWorks offers services that help existing homeowners fix their home through low-interest home improvement loans. First-time homebuyers can receive homebuyer education and help from their realtor in finding the right home and the best mortgage loan product. Homeowners who are finding it difficult to keep their home due to unfortunate circumstances can also learn how to work with the bank to keep their home. Using these tools, individuals learn what it takes to keep up with the commitment of owning a home and how to be a good neighbor, with support before, during and after the process.

Another program offered by NeighborWorks, as it relates to housing, is real estate development. Neighborhoods are transformed and strengthened with a lot of care and planning. After vacant and/or run-down homes are purchased, the magic begins. New homes are built with thoughtful consideration of the characteristics of surrounding homes and the needs of future owners. As these individual home projects are completed, the neighborhoods begin to transform, adding to the pride, safety and unity of its residents. This neighborhood revitalization is what keeps attracting new homeowners to live on the west side.

By design, NeighborWorks always prioritizes resident needs. Because they don’t rely only on government dollars, they have flexibility in their operations to address community needs. The majority of their funds are raised from private sector grants and program revenue. In addition, their 17-member volunteer Board of Directors has a 51-percent west-side resident majority. “The residents can always have the final say,” said Garciaz. More than 100 west side residents have served on NeighborWorks’ board.

In order to optimize their impact they have additional programs that build capacity of residents to create positive change in their community. “Bricks and mortar are important, but what creates lasting change is investing in the residents,” said Garciaz.
Billy Palmer is one example of the positive outcomes of NeighborWork’s leadership programs. He is now the chair of the YouthWorks committee, a program that he benefitted from as a teen. In 1989, Palmer was a 17-year-old adolescent experiencing difficult times when he enrolled in the YouthWorks program, which teaches youth employment and leadership skills. Garciaz was the program director then. His group was assigned to build a home for a low-income family. Palmer, who was all too familiar with the feeling of constantly moving and dealing with hard circumstances, understood what the home would mean for this family.

Palmer would encounter NeighborWorks again in 2004, this time as part of the first class of the Westside Leadership Institute. He left with more knowledge, training and understanding of community organizing and was energized in his efforts to get people to exercise their right to vote. As the 2015 recipient of the Dorothy Richardson Resident Leadership Award, he was recognized nationally for his impact and community service.

Palmer currently serves as Vice President on NeighborWorks’ Board of Directors, co-host of a weekly Radio Active talk show, and on the Glendale Community Council board. Palmer says that investing in and shaping the youth of our community is the most rewarding thing he’s done, because he has experienced first-hand how much of an impact it had on him as an adolescent.

Since 1977, NeighborWorks Salt Lake has engaged residents in the neighborhoods they serve in the creation of programs that meet the needs of the communities, and that is what makes it so unique. Some of their initiatives in 2016 include building 23 market-rate, townhome-style units and preserving seven blighted affordable units near 300 West and 800 North. There will also be a project to build another 17 townhome-style, mixed-income units at the corner of 1000 W. and 200 S.

NeighborWorks Salt Lake’s multi-pronged approach to neighborhood revitalization, including market rate and affordable housing, economic development, resident leadership and youth development programs, will contribute to long-term sustainability that will attract diverse residents and appropriate development on the west side for years to come.

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