Strengthening Neighborhoods Through the Anchor of Homeownership
When Paterson Habitat for Humanity began its work in the city’s 4th ward, the rate of homeownership was less than 16%. Thanks to Habitat’s development of 75 homes in a 12-block radius, the rate of homeownership has doubled in recent years. That, the Paterson Habitat for Humanity team believes, is the key to stabilization in Paterson. Here, CEO Scott Millard and CFO Dave Juliana reflect on Habitat’s partnership with NJCC.
Can you describe Paterson?
Scott: Paterson, in its broadest context, was America’s first industrial city, which has ebbed and flowed through numerous iterations of industrial manufacturing. It’s a city with great promise, great ethnic diversity, positioned well geographically, but after 50 years of disinvestment, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done for Paterson to reemerge and become the city it can be.
What is Paterson Habitat for Humanity?
Scott: We are one of 1,200 affiliates of Habitat for Humanity International, and we were founded in 1984. As an urban affiliate working in a small geographic area, we have been able to create opportunities for low-income residents and renters to realize their dream of homeownership. To date, we have built over 280 homes in the city of Paterson, predominantly in economically distressed neighborhoods on the north side and in the 4th ward. We focus on infill development and stabilizing communities through homeownership.
Dave: Most people might know the name “Habitat for Humanity,” but in many cases, they don’t realize a lot of things that we do. We’re an affordable housing construction company, a real estate development company, and we provide volunteer opportunities for people — but we’re also a bank, in the sense that we underwrite all the mortgages for the homes that we sell. We also have a retail operation, where we sell used appliances and home goods.
Who do you serve?
Scott: To work with us, families need to meet three criteria. They need to be low-income, have the ability to repay a mortgage, and demonstrate a housing need. Our families come in all shapes and sizes. Some are young couples just starting out, others are families with kids or multigenerational families.
Dave: Mostly, we want our families to become partners with us. We only ask them to put 1% down, as opposed to a typical mortgage. And then they provide 400 hours of “sweat equity” to build their home and others in Paterson.
What makes Habitat homes special?
Dave: The families are what make the houses special. We always say, “It’s the home, not the house.” I could tell you countless stories about people who talk about celebrating their first Christmas as a homeowner, or simple things like taking a shower with hot water and providing a place for their son or daughter to study.
Scott: There’s this notion of home and stability that they’ve never had before. Very often, they have moved around frequently, and this is the first time they feel settled and stable. Beyond that, Habitat homes create a sense of community. Homeowners are a part of building houses, and the community comes together. Also, we build homes to the highest standards, so not only is the home stable, but it’s a healthy and sustainable home.
Why is the NMTC program right for Habitat?
Dave: In general, affordable housing requires more than just the mortgages we create or the sales; we need another partner. The NMTC program is perfect because of the affordable housing component. The missions of the NMTC program and Habitat for Humanity are perfectly aligned.
Scott: So many funding programs are specifically tailored to rental housing. There aren’t many programs that work with affordable homeownership. NMTC offers a broader standpoint, and its focus on neighborhood revitalization blends with our work.
What did you find was different about NJCC versus other funders you have worked with?
Dave: NJCC was willing to be very creative. Probably the most important thing to us was that NJCC was willing to hear things that were different.
Scott: Overall, we are mission-aligned with NJCC. Our partnership allows for creative conversations and solutions because everyone is working towards the same end goal.