New Chauncey Housing Incorporated: Stabilizing and preserving neighborhood heritage

nchiNestled just off of Purdue University’s bustling campus, New Chauncey Housing Incorporated works to keep the West Lafayette, Ind., neighborhood of New Chauncey a vibrant place to live. The non-profit housing corporation opened its doors in 1998, when members of the neighborhood association saw that their beloved neighborhood was in danger of turning into student rentals. They realized that they needed to stabilize the near-campus neighborhood in order to keep a nice balance of owner-occupied homes. Funding comes from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME programs through HUD. NCHI’s focus is to help low-to-moderate income persons and families buy a home.

Ann Brandyberry has been with NCHI for the last seven years, five of which have been as the company’s executive director. Prior to working here, she was a self-proclaimed preservationist at heart, but knew very little about the organization. It was her love of historic preservation and the mission to help people that drew her to the job. Carol Lindquist, program coordinator, joined NCHI five years ago. I recently had the privilege of meeting both of these ladies, who truly love what they do.

Brandyberry explained that in an effort to stabilize the neighborhood, NCHI buys houses that are in danger of becoming rentals, rehabs them, if necessary, and sells them to qualifying persons. They currently own four houses, one of which should be selling in May and two others with prospective buyers. “We’re always looking for new houses,” Brandyberry stated, “but there’s a price range and income limits which can make it difficult.” Often, the homes they buy have all original fixtures, so NCHI needs to rehab and make them code-compliant. They try for the greenest alternatives on the strict budget they have, with Energy Star appliance, low-VOC paint and eco-friendly flooring options.

NCHI also offers down-payment assistance of up to $25,000, which is forgiven, if buyers agree to stay in the home for at least 15 years. (If, for whatever reason, they need to leave early, they simply pay it back). Due to the types of funding they receive, they can only sell to families of low-to-moderate incomes. NCHI’s primary focus is the New Chauncey area. However, on occasion they do work outside the neighborhood. This can happen if a person qualifies for the assistance program, but ultimately finds a house in a different neighborhood, NCHI can still help them with the down payment. Also, Brandyberry explained that the CDBG funds could be used citywide. We also do emergency repair services, which can help people of any age, but generally helps with the elderly and those on a fixed income. In many cases, NCHI partners with SHARP, Senior Housing Assistance Repair Program. “The qualifications are the same” Brandyberry continued, “and can help with things like a new roof, new furnace, grab bars, ramps, etc.”

Marketing can be a struggle; so in order to get their name out there, NCHI enlisted the help of several local Realtors®. They’ve been surprised at just how successful this has been. “With the MLS listings, it has been very helpful,” Brandyberry stated, “it’s helped to expand the market and has been extremely successful.”

In addition to word-of-mouth, their website and Realtors®, NCHI’s primary marketing tool is the open house. They usually do two to three open houses a year, usually in June and in early December. Their open houses go beyond simply displaying the house. They, of course hope that perspective buyers come, but ultimately use it as a vehicle to showcase what NCHI does, educate the public and give back to the community. They often embrace a theme or event with their open houses. Brandyberry and Lindquist recalled with great fondness a time when they hosted an antique/tag sale during an open house. This gave them added revenue, a chance to showcase their staging skills and an opportunity to go antiquing. By next year, they hope to expand into more workshops and events, for both clients and the community. They plan to hold workshops on topics like mortgages, speak on what’s going on; financing and interest rates; closings; taxes; budgets, most of the families here are on a low-fixed income, so they need to learn to budget; how to green your house; historic preservation and more.

NCHI’s road is not without some stumbling blocks. In today’s economy, it’s been harder for clients in the necessary income range to qualify for a mortgage, which is something they have to do on their own. Luckily, NCHI has been able to educate a few local mortgage lenders, who now understand the program well, which makes it easier.

“It’s about networking with the community,” Brandyberry explains. “To be in this organization, you need to love what you do and like working with people.” And it’s clear that Brandyberry indeed loves what she does. Each day provides her with the opportunity to learn and to help people achieve the American dream.