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Since LISC opened its Buffalo office 20 years ago, one of the core components of our work has been implementing HUD’s Section IV grant program. LISC is one of just three organizations that are eligible to deploy this funding nationwide, and the program has had a tremendous impact on driving community development activity here in Buffalo.
Section IV is designed to build capacity at organizations and enhance their ability to take on affordable housing and community development projects that will benefit low-income individuals and families. Section IV funds help groups expand their staff, provide training, develop strategic plans, and expand their community engagement efforts.
LISC identifies organizations whose objectives align with our strategy to initiate comprehensive community development in targeted neighborhoods. Since 1998, Buffalo LISC has been awarded $3.69 million in Section IV funds for deployment to local non-profits for capacity building.
Not only has that funding been a lifeline for groups whose work can be significantly amplified by adding staff. It has provided a foundation to leverage additional public and private funding and resources, thus expanding opportunities for local CDC’s to take on bigger projects. It also helps to foster partnerships between groups who are working in the same areas.
“When we provide Section IV operating support grants, we do it with the expectation that the awardees will follow a comprehensive approach such as our Building Sustainable Communities strategy, which requires collaborative relationships between multiple non-profit community-based partners so that their combined efforts are mutually reinforcing,” said Michael Clarke, Buffalo LISC executive director.
Buffalo LISC and its partners have witnessed how this program has contributed to sustainable, positive changes in our local neighborhoods over time. In 2000, LISC participated in the initiation of the West Side Community Planning Collaborative, which was comprised of several neighborhood groups. They produced a strategic plan that prompted several agencies to join forces, setting the stage for a massive transformation in that neighborhood.
With LISC contributing Section IV support to some of the core groups in the collaborative, the pace of change was significantly amplified. LISC provided the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) with funds to hire an executive director. MAP was then equipped to collaborate with Westside Neighborhood Housing Services to implement their community plan, which sparked the revitalization of the West Side.
That success story expanded to include People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo), a longtime LISC partner whose Green Development Zone has become a nationally recognized model for community development.
“Section IV has helped PUSH Buffalo to do comprehensive work in their neighborhood,” said Michael Clarke. “It built their capacity to do more housing work in their Green Development Zone, enabled them to build a partnership with Housing Visions for the Massachusetts Avenue Community Homes project, and supported their rehabilitation of a vacant public school building into a multi-purpose community hub.”
What begins with Section IV support can evolve into long-term partnerships that produce major change in target areas. LISC’s partnership with MAP began with staffing the organization with its first director. Today, LISC has agreed to provide a $1.36 million construction loan to help MAP fulfill their longtime dream of building a food hub designed to remedy food deserts on the West Side, provide food-related job training to community members and youth, and improve nutrition throughout the city’s low income neighborhoods. The MAP Farmhouse Community Food Center is slated to open later this spring.
Those partnerships also go beyond target areas, like in the case of longtime LISC partner Belmont Housing Resources for WNY, Inc., whose collaborative work with other agencies creates affordable housing throughout the city.
“Belmont’s relationship with LISC has enhanced our capacity to carry out our mission of expanding affordable housing opportunities,” said Michael Riegel, executive director. “The operational support that LISC provides through the HUD Section 4 program affords us the ability to partner with and mentor neighborhood organizations to undertake a variety of housing programs. Our homeownership, owner-occupied housing rehabilitation and affordable rental development activities have all benefitted greatly from these resources.”
Section IV support has also enabled groups to expand their service areas, like in the case of Heart of the City Neighborhoods (HOCN), one of Buffalo LISC’s first community partners. LISC provided HOCN with start-up funding in 1998, and has continued to support the organization’s operations, planning, and community engagement work.
HOCN was first established as the housing arm of Buffalo Place, managing mixed-use apartment buildings downtown and establishing the Buffalo Hostel. They expanded their scope to include affordable housing work, including rehab/resale projects, minor home rehabs for senior citizens, and affordable housing construction projects. They’ve since outgrown the lower West Side where their work began, and now serve the entire Niagara and Ellicott districts.
HOCN’s director, Stephanie Simeon, describes their approach to development as “soup to nuts.” Their staff have the expertise to see the affordable housing production process through from the beginning phases of finding vacant land, doing pre-development work, and sourcing funds, all the way to overseeing construction and providing property management for completed projects.
Now, HOCN is focused on using that expertise to partner with existing institutions in their target neighborhoods, such as churches, and helping them to take on their own development projects. HOCN acts as the “behind-the-scenes partner,” providing technical assistance, processing loan applications, and helping the churches establish themselves as CDCs.
“Working with strategic partners like LISC encouraged us to make a significant shift in the way we work,” said Simeon. "LISC has been key in helping us think of what we do as leverage towards creating more sustainable communities throughout Buffalo. LISC has encouraged us to think beyond our ‘service area’ and think more about communities in need of our services."
“I consider it a recognition of the work we’ve been doing,” Simeon said of receiving the support from LISC. “To us, it’s a pat on the back.”
Providing Section IV funding to an organization is an opportunity to seed growth in groups that have the potential to move communities forward. It provides a basis of funding and technical support that our partners can build upon. Sometimes that support leads to major development projects, and sometimes it fuels a series of smaller investments and initiatives that create more vibrant neighborhoods over time.
Buffalo LISC provided Section IV support to the University District Community Development Association in 2015, which allowed them to hire a Director of Community Development and Planning. That position alone allowed the organization to dive into a variety of new initiatives, from community gardens and neighborhood cleanups, to public art projects and commercial corridor revitalization efforts.
"Over the course of several years we’ve seen that small, incremental investments in our community can add up to big changes,” said Darren Cotton, UDCDA Director of Community Development and Planning. “Thanks to the ongoing support of LISC, the University District Community Development Association has been able to work alongside residents and businesses to rekindle a sense of community through public art, urban design, and creative placemaking."
UDCDA’s partnership with LISC also gave them access to MetroEdge’s market analysis tools, which opened the door to receiving multiple Buffalo Main Streets Initiative Grants through the State’s Better Buffalo Fund for commercial corridor work. Now, UDCDA is preparing to utilize their Section IV allocation to hire a community development coordinator to expand their reach in the University District.