Ohio CDC Association 2014 Member Awards

Oct. 10, 2014
Media Contact:
Kathy Hoke

Seven outstanding community development winners recognized during OCDCA’s 30th annual conference in Dayton

DAYTON - The Ohio CDC Association today announced its 2014 Member Awards during the Association’s 30th annual conference at the Crowne Plaza Dayton. The two-day gathering, Oct. 9-10, convened 250 community development leaders from around Ohio under the theme, Re-Inventing Our Communities.

The 2014 winners and their awards are:

  • Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, CDC of the Year
  • Diane Vakharia, Price Hill Will, CDC Staff Member of the Year
  • Rob Sheil, Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity, Stephanie J. Bevens Award Winner
  • Butler County Small Business Development Center, CDC Partner of the Year
  • Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland – Cleveland CityLIFT, CDC Project of the Year
  • Hal Keller, Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing, Ned D. Neuhausel Award
  • Fred Orth, Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, CDC Community Leader of the Year

“This year’s award winners inspire us all to step up our revitalization efforts,” said Nate Coffman, executive director of the Ohio CDC Association. “Their dedication and hard work give us examples of what’s possible in each of our communities. On behalf of the Board of Trustees and our members, we congratulate them for their outstanding achievements.”

The Ohio CDC Association is a statewide membership organization of Community Development Corporations that engages in capacity building, advocacy and public policy development that fosters socially and economically healthy communities.

Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, CDC of the Year
YNDC has successfully used strategies in the Idora and other Youngstown neighborhoods to curb population decline, improve neighborhood safety, increase community pride and cohesiveness and catalyze reinvestment in areas previously experiencing sharp decline. Realizing the need to bring these successes to scale, YNDC has worked tirelessly over the past year to increase internal capacity and community partnerships to increase the impact and scale of revitalization.

Iron Roots Urban Farm has become a 1.7-acre urban agriculture facility with a community kitchen that hosts microenterprise development training courses for food-based entrepreneurs and cooking classes to teach residents how to prepare inexpensive meals using fresh, healthy foods. YNDC has hired five farm apprentices to build career skills and has opened a farmer’s market in an underserved area of the city.

By December, YNDC will have rehabilitated more than 25 homes in 2014, which is as many as YNDC completed from 2010 to 2013. YNDC has developed an in-house rehabilitation crew, which has decreased costs and enabled YNDC to rehabilitate a higher volume of vacant homes.

In the past year, YNDC has increased its Community Loan Fund by providing 19 mortgages for low-to-moderate income households. In 2014, YNDC was certified by HUD as a housing counseling agency and received a comprehensive housing counseling grant, which will enable YNDC to provide a full range of housing service. In June, YNDC was awarded the Spirit of Homeownership Excellence by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) for its Community Loan Fund program.

In November 2013, YNDC began providing professional neighborhood planning services for the City of Youngstown. YNDC held a series of public meetings across the city engaging over 500 residents, who said that property issues, basic infrastructure and crime and safety were the top three priorities to improve neighborhood conditions. As such, YNDC has developed a citywide strategy to address these issues and is in the process of developing data-driven and action-oriented Neighborhood Action Plans to prioritize improvements and investments at the neighborhood scale. Action Committees of neighborhood residents, city officials, and neighborhood stakeholders are being established to oversee implementation of these plans. These efforts already have leveraged significant progress and investment in many neighborhoods.

YNDC has further increased its reach by accessing multiple national service programs provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service to increase capacity of our vacant land reuse, fight neighborhood blight and engage in neighborhood planning. This year, YNDC has become an AmeriCorps VISTA project site with nine members and an AmeriCorps State project site with 10 members. It also has two AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates and hosts an AmeriCorps NCCC Team. The VISTAs are working to build the capacity of four of YNDC’s program areas, while the State and NCCC members are working on the front lines to fight blight in Youngstown’s neighborhoods in partnership with the City of Youngstown. They will impact hundreds of housing units and vacant properties by the end of their periods of service.

Contact: Ian Beniston, Executive Director, at ibeniston@yndc.org

Diana Vakharia, Director of Economic Development, Price Hill Will, CDC Staff Member of the Year
Diana Vakharia has worked tirelessly to help improve the economic outlook of the Price Hill neighborhoods of Cincinnati. She laid the groundwork for current development by helping secure TIF districting in West Price Hill and Entertainment District in East Price Hill, which has led to new businesses and stronger existing businesses. She collaborated on planning for commercial revitalization in these business districts. She helped strengthen the local business alliances in collaboration with their leadership. She partnered with Launch Cincy to bring entrepreneurship classes in English and in Spanish to help residents start their own business. Most recently she has devoted countless hours to fostering an innovative microgreens and aquaponics company in Lower Price Hill that not only brings new business to the area but is also introducing a unique co-op model that hires local people and provides continuing education and profit sharing for all employees. As part of that, she worked with the City of Cincinnati to secure funding for the purchase and rehab of a building that will become their headquarters and growing site. She also secured funding for traffic and feasibility studies for a new commercial development in West Price Hill and the construction of a new park in East Price Hill.

Vakharia is leading a neighborhood planning process, together with Xavier’s Community Building Institute, that has connected with local residents to renew the 10-year old plan for Price Hill’s future. Some 300 residents have been working over the past two months to identify key priorities for neighborhood revitalization, and to create a vision, an agenda, action items and action teams for each priority. In addition, she has worked closely with the community engagement staff to strategize current programing and maximize its both the reach and the quality. She also helped the Arts Community Action Team put together a micro-grant for local arts organizations and oversaw the selection process.

“While the breadth and impact of her work has created significant improvement in the neighborhood, enhancing the lives of the 35,000 people who call Price Hill home, it is not just her accomplishments that led us to nominate Diana for this award,” says Ken Smith, executive director of Price Hill Will. “Diana comes to work every day with a smile on her face. No matter what deadlines are looming, what snags have popped up, and what stress she is facing, she remains calm, cheerful, upbeat and ready to roll up her sleeves to get the task at hand done. She is considerate of others, devoted to our work, and gives selflessly of her time and energy. I can’t think of anyone who deserves this honor more.”

Contact: Ken Smith, Executive Director, Price Hill Will, 513-251-3800, ext. 104 or ken@pricehillwill.org

Rob Sheil, Executive Director, Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity, Stephanie Bevens Award, honoring strong community advocates who have demonstrated commitment and entrepreneurial spirit
Rob Sheil has reenergized the Shared Equity program, which provides a way for low-income residents to build wealth. The requirements are simple – engage in the community, do community service and pay rent on time. If participants need emergency assistance to ensure their rent is paid on time, they can borrow from their equity at low interest. Within five years, they have $5,000 and within 10 years, they have $10,000.

Sheil has involved residents even more broadly with two residents serving on the Cornerstone Board. The group’s scope now includes a building for the disabled that will be ready in two years. “Rob is there mornings, evenings and weekends setting up a community garden, helping the residents find jobs and providing the support and guidance needed to ensure the success of this program. His tireless effort is evident every day through the impact he has had on the community around him.

Contact: Patricia Garry, CDC Association of Greater Cincinnati, 513-281-3774, patricia.garry@cdcgc.org

Butler County Small Business Development Center, CDC Partner of the Year
SELF launched the Butler County Microenterprise and Microloan Program in 2011 with the Butler County Small Business Development Center and other non-profit community partners to assist low- and moderate- individuals in launching or growing a business and to increase household income and spur economic growth in our community. Since then, 113 prospective low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs have enrolled in these trainings, 31 businesses have been launched or expanded, 28 of which are still in operation and thriving. Also, eight microloans have been awarded.

SELF’s key partner is the Butler County Small Business Development Center, which helps provide classroom training on small business topics and hands-on support for writing a business plan and completing a loan package. “Dave Riggs and Mark Langford of the SBDC -- both experienced entrepreneurs and business owners themselves -- go above and beyond to teach, mentor and encourage our entrepreneurial clients,” says Jeffrey Diver, executive director of SELF. “They offer advice, a listening ear and their expertise—and help support our clients by buying local and encouraging others to support these micro businesses”.

Prospective entrepreneurs have at least two major barriers to successful small business ownership. First, they are not able to access even minimal funds through traditional loans. Banks may find the loan requests to be too small, require the same amount of work as larger loans. Additionally, the borrowers are not creditworthy given current standards, and/or the economic climate discourages loan origination. Furthermore, in many cases, the entrepreneurs are inexperienced in business. They need both training and technical assistance to develop a quality business plan, get a small business started, and manage a business that is successful and lasting.

The Butler County Microenterprise and Microloan Program addresses these problems by incorporating an intensive 10-week, 30-hour training program and an alternative source of microloans. Together, these two components allow worthy microenterprises to be started, re-started, and maintained. With the help of this program’s well-designed technical assistance and accessible loans, the goal of successful self-employment becomes available to the unemployed and underemployed residents of Butler County.

“SELF and the SBDC are continuing to operate and enhance the microenterprise program that will result in the opening of more successful small businesses by low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs,” Diver said. “Our partners at the SBDC have kept us up to date on tips and trends throughout the small business world. Also, we have added new information and requirements to the classes for our entrepreneurs. In just three years, our clients have reported an improvement in their household incomes and overall self-sufficiency. Our business owners are also creating jobs and contributing to the area economy. The talented, hard-working and knowledgeable staffers at the Butler County Small Business Development Center have been a major part of this success.”

Contact: Jeffrey Diver, Executive Director, SELF, jdiver@selfhelps.org, 513-868-9300.

Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland/Cleveland CityLIFT, CDC Project of the Year
Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland executed the largest down-payment assistance program in Cleveland’s history. Working with NeighborWorks America ®and Wells Fargo, NHS of Greater Cleveland worked with financial institutions, real estate agents and other community development corporations to help low- and moderate-income families obtain homeownership. For families who did not currently own a home, they were eligible for up to $15,000 in down payment assistance. The conditions were that they needed to be at 120% of the poverty level and purchasing in the City of Cleveland proper. Additionally, families needed to use a preferred mortgage lender by NHS of Greater Cleveland to ensure a quality mortgage product.

As of June 2014, 240 families received more than $3.3 million in down payment assistance for homeownership. This leveraged more than $15 million in lending in the local economy and brought hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue, home repair and real estate transactions. Intangible effects include stabilization of Cleveland communities.

The need for this project greatly exceeded the capacity and NHS of Greater Cleveland quickly reacted to provide direct service for all interested families. Some 900 families made appointments for 245 available slots. Families who were unable to purchase a home were given financial capability coaching and additional training to help them. Many of them will utilize other NHS programs such as the Cuyahoga County Down Payment Assistance Program, financial education and free tax assistance.

The CityLIFT project helped low- and moderate-income families in two critical ways. First, it helped them with down payments, something seniors, younger clients and working families with children find difficult to achieve. The down payment assistance could be combined with other programs such as the First Time Homebuyer program from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. Second, CityLIFT required homebuyers in its program to take eight hours of homebuyer education and additional free assistance provided for mortgage and document review by NHS staff.

Cleveland CityLIFT successfully reenergized home purchasing and redevelopment in Cleveland. For instance, Mersaidies Foster, a young mother of two, became the first recipient of the Cleveland CityLIFT– qualifying her for $15,000 in down payment assistance. The down payment assistance program helped Ms. Foster immensely, as she has saved for years but childcare and education expenses made accumulating down payment dollars challenging. Ms. Foster rented for more than her mortgage will be for, so this represented a significant cost savings to her family. By taking home education courses with NHS, Ms. Foster was ready to buy a home. Ms. Foster is a college student at Lakeland Community College studying nursing while being employed at the University Hospitals as a clinical technician. She is particularly excited about gardening with her family in her new house, which is in the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland.

“It’s beyond exciting,” said Mersaidies Foster. “It’s a lot of responsibility but it is part of my dream for my family…it’s stability.”

Contact: Alexandra Bodie, Communications Manager, NHS of Greater Cleveland, 216-458-HOME, ext. 2336 or ABodie@nhscleveland.org

Hal Keller, Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing, Ned Neuhausel Award, honoring housing developers who demonstrate a lifelong commitment to people with disabilities
Named for long-time leader in Ottawa County’s disability support system who died in 2007, this award goes to Hal Keller, president of the Ohio Capital Corporation of Housing since 1993.

Keller started his career as a neighborhood organizer and tenant advocate. He served as a consultant to state and local governments and an administrator of state and local housing programs before joining the new Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing 25 years ago as its first Director of Development.

Keller serves on several boards, including the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, YMCA of Central Ohio, Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County, Ohio Housing Council, Habitat for Humanity of Ohio, National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders, National Leased Housing Association, National Housing Conference, and the National Association of State and Local Equity Funds.

A staunch supporter of community development, Keller has worked with the board of OCCH to establish programs to support Resident Development Programs and Place Based Initiatives, as well as to provide direct support to many CDCs and other organizations throughout Ohio, and Kentucky.

“Hal is a strong leader who advocates at the local, state and federal level for programs that support not only the development of affordable housing, but that support low-income and special needs populations,” says Beth Long of OCCH. “He is one of the strongest advocates for affordable housing for vulnerable people that I know. I have worked for Hal since 2001, and can honestly say that I’ve stayed with OCCH for 13 years because I admire Hal, his leadership, his dedication and his vision.”

Contact: Beth Long, Development Analyst, OCCH, 614-224-8446, blong@occh.org

Fred Orth, Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, CDC Community Leader of the Year
Fred Orth is a tenacious voice in the Walnut Hills community. Since he moved there over 40 years ago, Orth has championed the neighborhood valiantly. In the early 1970s, he submitted a plan for the Gilbert Avenue Greenway, which was completed in 2010. Without his determination, two very important and historic buildings -- the Hamilton House and Fire Company 16, which is the oldest remaining firehouse in Cincinnati -- would have been torn down. Today, those buildings are a key part of the neighborhood’s revitalization. Fred also worked for the City of Cincinnati for 30 years as an engineering technician, city planner, development analyst and development officer.

Contact Kevin Wright, Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, kevinwright@walnuthillsrf.org