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Neighborhood Housing Services of Waterbury Develops Affordable, Energy Efficient Housing

By S. Mathur

The mission of the Neighborhood Housing Services of Waterbury (NHSW) is to "Revitalize our community through an inclusive approach by providing quality affordable housing, advancing community development initiatives, and fostering financial education, self-sufficiency and vibrant neighborhoods." This can involve helping homeowners avoid foreclosure, helping renters find affordable housing, and most importantly, building community from the ground up through the creation of affordable, sustainable housing.

Waterbury has a lower cost of living than any other city in the state of Connecticut, and homes are affordable. Property taxes are high but a single family home in a nice neighborhood with a good sized backyard costs about $150K. However, in neighborhoods in the north and south ends of the city, a significant proportion of the housing stock is substandard. There are many empty houses and even entire streets or strips that are deserted. Replacing the empty streets with affordable, energy efficient housing, says Executive Director Kevin T. Taylor, adds to the community, the economy and the environment. The emphasis on sustainability redefines the meaning of affordable housing.

The current focus on revitalizing the north end of Waterbury, says Taylor, takes "an inclusive approach- providing affordable housing, addressing quality of life issues through community building and engagement, and investing in residents. When we use the word affordable, we want to make sure that the word is not only associated with the cost of the home, but also the lifetime of ownership." Plans for neighborhoods like Adams Street in the north end include parks, lighting and public seating areas to create a place for community.

Sustainability is an essential part of affordability, explains Taylor: "NHSW is focusing on developing sustainable homes and utilizing renewable energy systems (i.e. geothermal and photovoltaics) to achieve zero net energy (meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site) in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods." While geothermal energy costs more upfront in terms of installation costs, the running costs are low to nil.

NHSW also helps homeowners avoid foreclosure by explaining the options open to them. Taylor say that someone who fears that they may not be able to make a monthly payment should call the lender and discuss "options to avoid foreclosure such as; a repayment plan, a forbearance (where a client will pay a portion of the mortgage such as the escrow for a period of up to six months with the hope that they will be able to get back on track or apply for a modification)." If a modification is agree upon, the lender can stretch the terms of the loan, reduce the interest and put the delinquent balance at the end of the loan, giving the homeowner a breathing space to begin making payments again, on an easier schedule.

Renters often face problems if they have bad credit history or past evictions. NHSW can help renters clean up their credit history and come up with a plan to pay off their outstanding debts.

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