There's good news for owners of rental property in the Austin community. In early March a grant-funding opportunity will provide much-needed funds to assist in improving the state of multi-unit rental buildings (2-4) that are vacant and in disrepair, thanks to a $100,000-plus grant recently awarded to the Oak Park Regional Housing Center (OPRHC) by HOPE Fair Housing Center in West Chicago.
Beginning on March 3, landlords are encouraged to link to the Housing Center's website, www.liveinoakpark.com, or visit an ABC Bank to pick up an application form, to potentially access up to $4,000 per unit, according to Rob Breymaier, executive director of OPRHC.
"We want to help revitalize the Austin housing market by helping to create a little more investment there," said Breymaier.
The Housing Center, late last year, received word it was one of five local grantees to receive the prize. The center works with groups in Austin to focus on the improvement of small buildings, preferably located close to Oak Park, where one or more of the units is currently vacant. Qualified participants, said Breymaier, will receive up to $4,000, plus $1,000 in owner-contributed funds, to make improvements such as painting, installing new appliances, sanding floors, etc.
In addition, Breymaier said, they will be working with building owners on tenant screening and asking local contractors from Austin to help in finding building owners who could benefit from the local initiative.
Creating community connections
In recent months, Breymaier has been reaching out to ABC Bank, the Greater Austin Development Corporation, Austin Coming Together, and 29th Ward Alderman Deborah Graham's office to enlist their help spreading the word.
"We asked ABC Bank if they would be willing to market the program to their customers and clients and throughout the community, and they are more than happy to do that," Breymaier said.
Likewise, the bank has indicated they would be amenable to helping program participants with other financing.
"At this point, they are still formulating what they can do," Breymaier said.
HOPE Funds are the direct result of a federal housing discrimination complaint filed in April 2012 by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and 13 of its member organizations. Filed against Wells Fargo Bank, HOPE, with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) alleged that Wells Fargo's real estate-owned (REO) properties, located in white areas, were better maintained and marketed than REO properties in communities of color.
The settlement with Wells Fargo, HOPE's Paula Brkich noted in a press release, provided $27 million to 19 cities across the nation to help foster homeownership, assist with rebuilding neighborhoods of color impacted by the foreclosure crisis, and promote diverse, inclusive communities.
"We are very excited about this, and are really looking forward to meeting more contractors in the community, and learning about the owners they work with," Breymaier said. "Hopefully, it will be the start of a longer-term relationship with the folks in Austin, so we can continue to work with people there in helping to revitalize the community."
In line with the Housing Center's 40-year mission of facilitating the integration of communities with which it works, white families could move into at least a few of the 20-plus rental units they anticipate will be fixed up and marketed to new tenants.
"This is a great idea to help Austin" said Dwayne Truss, an Austin resident and community advocate. "It sounds good if you are trying to identify two- to four-unit buildings that are unoccupied and vacant. I don't see the integration thing happening unless you are really focusing on buildings, let's say, in the Midway Park area. That seems to be the area where white residents are comfortable in Austin … because you already have white families who live in those historical homes."
It could be a tense situation, he noted.
"Obviously, no one is going to put up a sign saying, 'I'm looking for white families to move in, and white families only,'" Truss said. "It's a mighty goal, but how do you get there? As of right now, one factor is that our schools may not be perceived as good enough for certain families. What I have been pushing for, and it doesn't seem to be resonating with officials, is a K-8 magnet school in Austin because we have never had one."
In response, Breymaier said, "We are not in any way looking to radically change Austin, but just trying to help them improve the environment there to make it a more desirable place to live. On the first Monday in March, the application for this will be available on our website, and we will have written copies that we will place in well-traveled areas around the community, including ABC Bank, and people will have 35 or 40 days to apply for it."