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VOL. 126 | NO. 39 | Friday, February 25, 2011

NHOM Brings Housing Opportunities to Working Poor

By Aisling Maki

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For more than two decades, Neighborhood Housing Opportunities Management Executive Director Howard Eddings and his team have worked to rebuild Memphis neighborhoods most plagued by urban decay, whose broken windows and overgrown lots have become familiar eyesores in the wake of the Great Recession.

But Eddings’ latest project in his native Orange Mound neighborhood – where more than a quarter of families live at or below the poverty level – may be the most personal endeavor of his career.

The street where Eddings lived as a child is now desolate. An ugly, vacant house decaying on its corner, owned by an out-of-town corporation, stands as a sad testament to the realities harbored in and enabled by the crumbling walls of urban blight. It was there that Eddings’ close childhood friend, addicted to crack, died of exposure.

“He was there weeks before people knew,” Eddings said. “I’ve gone in this house several times thinking that we need to take this house back for this community – either push it down or build it up so it can add value to this community.”

The City of Memphis has awarded Eddings’ Neighborhood Housing Opportunities Management, Inc., a community housing development organization, a half-million-dollar grant to build eight new 2- or 3-bedroom homes to provide safe, affordable housing options for working poor families with children.

The Orange Mound project is the latest installment of the program, which, in its 20-year history, has either built or rehabbed more than 300 family residences.

The NHO homes are under construction in Orange Mound, where the median household income is just over $21,000, according to the most recent census data.

The 38114 ZIP code is one of the city’s targeted areas for its Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which seeks to acquire properties to be rehabilitated for the purpose of reselling, renting or lease-purchasing in order to stabilize neighborhoods and control potential blight caused by foreclosures.

“They have been active in this area for a long time and have been excellent at what they do,” Robert Lipscomb, the city’s director of Housing and Community Development, said of NHO. “They also understand the connection between the enhancement of social service delivery, housing and employment. They do great work.”

NHO – which operates under the umbrella of the Memphis Leadership Foundation, a non-denominational Christian ministry – was founded in 1989 to empower low-income families toward economic stability through the provisions of homeownership.

“The overarching goal was to move people towards homeownership and empower people economically through homeownership,” Eddings said.

A decision to add rental units to the program prompted the formation of NHOM, the nonprofit subsidiary that manages the properties and pursues resources that leverage its ability to do so.

Approved families can lease a property from NHOM on an income-based sliding scale, while the organization works with them to encourage saving the difference in rent towards a down payment for the purchase of a home on the open market, or to repay debts and repair credit as needed to move closer to the ultimate goal of homeownership.

To purchase and rehab existing properties for interim housing and to fund the construction of new properties, NHOM partners with the city of Memphis, which uses federal funds to supplement the organization’s efforts.

Grants are distributed through a reimbursement process, and cash flow on the front end is derived from interest-free loans provided by local community partner entities that range from businesses to churches to foundations.

“The loans allow us to not go out and borrow the money at higher rates of interest, which drives up the cost of building the house and drives up the cost for us to rent to a lower-income family,” Eddings said.

The Orange Mound project is the latest installment of the program, which, in its 20-year history, has either built or rehabbed more than 300 family residences, primarily in Frayser, Raleigh and North Memphis.

And building new properties in struggling urban areas comes with its own set of challenges. Eddings said NHOM deals with frequent thefts involving new utility units, as well as the destruction of sheet rock to steal and sell copper tubing for quick cash.

But the payoff for NHOM’s efforts is evident in the success stories of families who’ve transitioned into the program from public housing to triumphantly attain freedom from debt, often to pursue higher education and realize the dream of homeownership.

Aquila Johnson and her family these past two years have experienced a better quality of life in their North Memphis home, acquired through the program.

“I like the community; all of us get along,” Johnson said. “There are no problems down here, shooting and all that – not in the area we’re in. All of us try to stick together and watch out for one another’s houses. It’s a good atmosphere for me and my children.”

The Daily News is a supporter of Neighborhood Housing Opportunities Management Inc.

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