Lawrence City Commissioner Mike Rundle is looking into a federally sponsored program that may bring together neighborhood, business and city interests for the betterment of Lawrence's neighborhoods.
Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) is a national network of locally funded and operated self-help associations whose mission is to revitalize decaying neighborhoods. Each NHS, organized as its own non-profit organization, draws upon the resources of neighborhood residents, business and civic leaders and local government officials.
During the past week, city and county officials met with representatives of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods and the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp., a national non-profit organization that helps set up NHS programs. Rundle arranged the meeting.
Each NHS is run by a local staff which gets its direction from an autonomous board of directors that includes neighbors, business leaders and government officials. With funding from a variety of sources ranging from local lending institutions and businesses to foundations and local government, NHS provides low-interest, long-term loans for projects approved by the local boards in target neighborhoods.
BECAUSE INCOME from the extended payments does not generally keep up with the demand for new loans, the NRC will purchase up to half of the loans to create a continuing source of capital for the local NHS to draw upon.
Eric Youngberg, NRC field services officer whose region includes NHS programs in several Midwestern states, said each NHS is designed to fit the needs of its own community. In that way, the program can target housing development, rental and multifamily housing, commercial revitalization or industrial concerns.
Loans can be made, for example, for everything from putting a new roof on the home of an 80-year-old widow to assisting in the start-up of a neighborhood grocery store.
Rundle said that before an NHS can be organized in Lawrence, the city must make an application with the NRC. Once an application is made, the NRC will conduct a community assessment to determine the interest and commitment from both public and private sectors toward the program.
If the city does apply and is found to be acceptable, Youngberg estimates that a local contribution of about $50,000 would be needed to develop of a local NHS. It would take 12 months to 18 months after the assessment before an NHS would be ready to operate.
"I THINK IT could work here," Rundle said of the NHS program. "On a very informal basis we've been talking about it, and it appears that groups such as the neighborhood organizations and the chamber could work it out together."
Rundle said the beauty of the NHS program is twofold: revitalizing neighborhoods and getting various sectors of the community working together.
"They've gone into communities where different sectors have been at odds with each other and brought them together working toward the same goals," Rundle said. "That would be great for Lawrence."
Rundle has kept his fellow city commissioners updated on NHS activities and said he will be requesting that the commission consider making an application soon.