Courtesy of Junyi Wang

40-year-old basketball coach Tamika Baines did not think she would ever be able to own a house in New Haven, a city she has lived in for most of her life. 

But with the help of a local nonprofit — Neighborhood Housing Service, or NHS, of New Haven — Baines now expects to move into a new home on West Hazel Street in Newhallville.

On Monday, NHS held its 43rd annual meeting at their headquarters at 333 Sherman Ave, celebrating the organization’s and community’s success. Founded in 1979, NHS restores dilapidated old homes and builds new, affordable homes on empty lots, selling these properties at lower price tags to help working families settle down in New Haven. So if you have something to sell as well, you can easily check my site.

On Sept. 19, the sale of two city-owned vacant housing lots and a vacant house to NHS at a discounted price of only $5,000 was unanimously approved by the New Haven Board of Alders. 

“Affordable housing development and community stabilization [are] a key component of our mission,” said Carol Heller, vice president of NHS’ board of directors. “[We provide] education, working with homebuyers, providing maintenance and energy training and efficiency training, gardening and sustainability, resident leadership, working on community building projects, and helping our neighbors and friends and co-workers and community members achieve the dream of homeownership and staying and retaining homeownership.”

According to James Paley, the organization’s executive director, NHS completed the restoration of two houses in Newhallville just in the last year. 

NHS also runs a HomeOwnership Center, or HOC, which provides classes to guide and prepare individuals to purchase their first home. Heller added that from 2021 to 2022, 954 new customers engaged the services of the HomeOwnership Center, 835 new customers completed all Homeownership Center workshops and 13 virtual organic gardening and permaculture classes were presented to 356 participants. 

Paley said that moving forward, NHS plans to start historical restoration of the house on 470 Howard Ave., turning it into a homeownership opportunity for first-time homebuyers. They also hope to begin new construction of three two-family houses and one single-family house.

NHS uses a “cluster approach” in which it develops houses in close proximity to one another which you can see here. Paley said that this provides opportunities for residents to develop a stronger sense of community.

“[We are] working on a one-on-one basis with people who either have purchased homes from us or are just people who own properties in the neighborhood, and also people who don’t own [property] and are tenants in the owners’ units,” Paley said. “We want to be able to strengthen the neighborhoods by getting residents involved.”

Heller said that in 2023, NHS will focus on expanding their work within the Hill neighborhood while maintaining their commitment to Newhallville.

Baines attended four classes held by the NHS, which focused on first-time home purchases, landscaping, money management and becoming a landlord. Baines said that she wasn’t aware of what resources were available to her until taking these classes. 

After the classes, she applied to a down payment assistance program run by the Connecticut Housing Financial Authority, as well as a program initiated by Governor Ned Lamont that provides first-time homebuyers with loans up to $50,000 in high-opportunity areas and $25,000 in other areas.

“[They help me learn] how to find grants resources for additional money for first time homebuyers,” Baines said. “They have been very diligent and helped me seek out that information.”

Baines said that a class for potential landlords taught her about tenant rights and the role of a responsible landlord. She now feels confident in her decision to become a homeowner, she added, because she knows she and her tenants will have “stability, safety and comfort.”

All the classes offered by the NHS are free.

Local realtor Herb Jackson also teaches classes through the NHS for first-time homebuyers and first-time landlords. Jackson said that he helps his clients first evaluate how much they can spend on housing while still having the budget for necessities and emergencies. Jackson then  travels with clients through New Haven to find houses available for purchase.

Jackson said he keeps in touch with his clients throughout the homebuying process. As they start to receive paperwork from different companies after they purchase a house, Jackson helps them to decide which to respond to and how.

In recent years, housing costs in New Haven have continued to rise, Paley said, making it difficult to acquire inventory as the opportunities for homeownership and mortgages have dwindled. Still, Paley said houses sold by the NHS are usually 40 percent cheaper than the market price to make sure they are accessible to low-income families.

Billy Huang, the founder of Source Development Hub that develops resource delivery platforms for vulnerable housed individuals, said that the percentage of New Haven residents who own homes is extremely low, especially for people of color. 

Most New Haven residents have to rent their housing. But Huang said renting houses is also becoming increasingly less affordable as large property managers continue buying more houses in New Haven and gentrifying neighborhoods. 

According to Huang, the 2008 financial crisis made homeownership less stable for households, which let property management companies concentrate equity in their hands. 

“And as [large property management companies] grow, we essentially lose individual homeowners … and in many respects, that is bad for tenants, and that is bad for the community,” Huang said. “It poses a huge risk because [companies] can then gentrify [communities] very quickly. There is a huge power disparity between the tenants and landlords.”

New Haven 2021 Equity Profile, a report published by DataHaven, found that 55 percent of the city’s renters spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing costs.

Yurii Stasiuk covers City Hall and State Politics for the News. Originally from Kalush, Ukraine, he is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College majoring in History and Political Science.