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2000 Best Practice Awards

Best of the Best Winners: Iowa

Best Practice: Polk County, Iowa, Housing Trust Fund


Polk County, Iowa. Iowa nonprofits now have a unified source of funding, capacity building and operational support to develop affordable housing projects—the Polk County Iowa Housing Trust Fund. Freed from ongoing fundraising and administrative constraints, developers have built more than 838 affordable housing units through financing from the fund since the trust’s inception.

The trust supports six programs:

  • Supportive Services—helps stabilize families through activities such as housing counseling and case management.

  • Operating Expenses—provides a mechanism to stabilize the operations of the nonprofits that partner with the trust by covering staff salaries, office space and janitorial services.

  • Capacity Building—provides financing to help nonprofits expand operations, develop new services, strengthen partnerships and support staff training.

  • Development—provides grants or loans to fund acquisition, rehabilitation and new construction
    of owner-occupied and rental housing.

  • Predevelopment—provides financing at early project stages for purchasing property, market analysis, legal fees and loan application fees.

  • Technical Assistance—helps neighborhoods complete comprehensive housing need assessments and pursue tailor-made housing projects.

The Neighborhood Finance Corporation, a nonprofit mortgage banker, currently administers the trust, which is in the process of obtaining 501 (c) 3 status. All funds must be used for units that assist low-income families, and half of the funds must help very low-income families. The trust allows money to be pooled to finance projects of vital importance to the community. Innovation is encouraged and activities funded by the trust must be unavailable from any other source. The trust evaluates grantee progress on behalf of corporate sponsors that contribute to the fund.

Formed by seven nonprofit housing providers, the trust enjoys support from multiple public and private
partners. A HUD Special Purpose grant for $2 million to launch the program helped leverage private funding of nearly $1 million. Polk County contributed $3 million, the city of Des Moines provided HOME and CDBG funding of $1.5 million and the state’s housing funds contributed $870,000.

The trust fund idea emerged during an area need assessment conducted in the early 1990s by a coalition of business, nonprofit and government representatives called Community Focus. While the need was evident, realization took years. Diverse interest groups vied to direct the trust’s focus and structure. At times, prominent supporters moved or changed jobs. The coalition held focus groups, one-on-one meetings with key stakeholders and facilitated joint development of a business plan to help these groups reach consensus.

The trust next addressed how to coordinate financial distribution and activities under one umbrella. The county agreed to dedicate its funds to administrative overhead. Corporations supporting the trust and nonprofit housing developers receiving trust financing each made concessions to ensure effective collabo-ration. While corporations have the option to target their contributions to certain activities, they agree to relinquish control to trust staff. Nonprofit members agree they will not solicit funds separate from the trust, thus allowing supporters to contribute to a single entity.

By creating programs that respond to identified community needs, the trust allows developers the flexibility and funding to operate their programs effectively.

Contact: Jayne Jochem, Phone: (515) 883-2509
Tracking Number: 512
Winning Category: Program (Community Planning and Development)

Best Practice: Building Blocks for a Better Tomorrow Through the Community Housing Development Corporation


Des Moines, Iowa. The Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC) in Des Moines, Iowa, provided low-income families with the opportunity of homeownership by constructing and rehabilitating 50 single-family homes in the Des Moines Enterprise Community. CDHC also provided construction training for its workers and offers an affordable rehabilitation program for low-income owners. These programs benefit the entire community by reversing blight and deterioration.

CHDC’s mission is to provide safe, decent, affordable homeownership opportunities for families with incomes below 80 percent of

Photo of Carol Bower receiving Best of the Best award
Carol Bower (c) receiving Best of the Best award from Secretary Cuomo (l) and Deputy Secretary Ramirez (r)

the area median income. Currently, CHDC completes in excess of $1.2 million of construction annually and an additional $50,000 in owner-occupied repair services. Job trainees are used on both new construction and rehabilitation of single-family homes.

CHDC works exclusively in the Enterprise Community through its Building Blocks program and other efforts. The Building Blocks program concentrates on the revitalization of neighborhoods near city schools in the Enterprise Community. Existing older homes are rehabilitated for sale, and new construction is built as in-fill. When 26 homes were revitalized around an inner-city elementary school, the school superintendent indicated that rehabilitating the school or constructing a new school on the site is now an option based on the positive changes in the neighborhood.

CHDC always includes job training in its programs. The job training apprentice program currently employs 17 individuals, including Vietnamese, Haitian, Bosnian, African-American, Hispanic and Caucasian trainees. As a growing need for job training for non-English-speaking individuals became apparent, a bilingual program was developed with instructors fluent in Spanish, Vietnamese and Bosnian. Under this new program, unemployed and under-employed persons who have very little or no English have an opportunity to learn skills that will potentially increase their income, while at the same time learning English.

CHDC provides repair services to low-income homeowners. Fees are based on the ability of the owner to pay. Several owners have chosen to participate in a sweat-equity arrangement.

CHDC is also developing a “Senior Campus” to respond to the documented need in the Enterprise Community for low-income senior housing with supportive services. Thirty percent of Des Moines’ elderly persons over the age of 65 live in the Enterprise Community, with 50 percent of those qualifying as low income.

CHDC attributes its success to securing half of its funding from private sources and to its construction job training program. To be successful too, other communities should take the following four steps:

  • Partner with a community-based organization with a mission of improving affordable housing
  • Identify homeownership and neighborhood revitalization as goals
  • Conduct a needs assessment in the targeted neighborhood
  • Secure financing from several sources. In addition to private donations and homebuyers’ contributions, an organization should be tied into the CDBG and HOME process in order to receive that funding.

Contact: Carol Bower, Phone: (515) 244-7798
Tracking Number: 551
Winning Category: Geographic

Best Practice: Stay N Play Child Care Center


Clinton, Iowa. The Clinton, Iowa, Public Housing Authority (PHA), with the assistance of HUD and a number of local and state partners, created a child care center and learning center to meet the needs of low-income families in the community. Clinton PHA’s Stay N Play Child Care Center provides quality child care services at an affordable rate to enable Section 8 and Public Housing parents to establish and maintain a better quality of life for their families. The child care center’s current enrollment is 114 children, and the center is at capacity with waiting lists for all programs.

The Clinton PHA staff recognized that in order for families to be self-sufficient, they must have available the support of quality child care as well as access to opportunities for skill development that is convenient for their schedules.

In addition, a Family Investment Center provides a convenient meeting place for residents to attend evening and weekend workshops while child care is provided in the adjoining Stay N Play center. Workshops are offered on a regular basis to all public housing residents on a variety of goal-related subjects, such as financial management, employment processes, life coping skills, self-esteem, career development, homebuying, job seeking, resume, interviewing skills and parenting. A computer lab provides a well-equipped, quiet, convenient place for residents to complete school assignments, create resumes, construct personal budgets or simply explore computer software without having to find child care while attending the lab.

Through partnerships, the housing authority staff accessed child care subsidy, food subsidy, local training opportunities, job training and private contributions. The result is a child care center that is meeting the needs of residents while operating with some profit, as well as a learning center that has high usage.

The Clinton PHA primarily used HUD funding for construction but has been innovative in the use of state and federal subsidies and services for the operation and programming at the center. To develop successful child care and learning centers, Clinton PHA staff suggest the following steps:

  • Identify the needs in the community
  • Form partnerships with outside organizations that share your goals
  • Develop a business plan
  • Identify funding sources
  • Foster community support

Contact: Debra Vath, Phone: (319) 243-1289
Tracking Number: 511
Winning Category: Geographic and Program (Public and Indian Housing)

Best Practice: NHS Homeownership Mobile Unit

Neighborhood Housing Services Opens Mobile Field Office

Iowa-Various Rural Areas. After government downsizing caused the closing of more than 20 USDA Rural Development Field Offices in Iowa, a number of communities suddenly found themselves cut off from their connection to housing services, counseling and information. Recognizing this gap in coverage, Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS), a nonprofit agency based in central Iowa, developed a simple and logical solution. The group acquired a 35-foot recreational vehicle and created a field office on wheels.

The mobile field office operates as a local point of contact, resource center and

Photo of Kathleen Moretz receiving award from Secretary Cuomo & Deputy Secretary Ramirez
Kathleen Moretz (c) receiving Best of the Best award from Secretary Cuomo (l) and Deputy Secretary Ramirez (r)

outreach hub for rural communities in southern Iowa lacking access to information on fair housing, homeownership and housing assistance resources. The mobile home enables interagency teams to visit rural areas periodically and is equipped to receive satellite broadcasts from the NHS home office, as well as broadcasts from HUD head-quarters. The mobile field office allows rural communities immediate access to training materials and HUD broadcasts, such as speeches by Secretary Cuomo. Training sessions can be conducted by setting up chairs around the front of the recreational vehicle, and necessary retrofitting and accommodations have enabled the Winnebago to accommodate people with disabilities.

Beneficiaries of this program are under-served rural communities and populations, including many major immigrant groups, across southern Iowa.

Although the solution is highly nontraditional, the planning, development and funding was rather straight-forward. The nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Service approached the state USDA/Rural Development office with the plan for a mobile unit to replace the closed field offices. Planning sessions were held, and funding possibilities were discussed for the acquisition and retrofitting of the mobile field unit. Ultimately, the project secured commitments from USDA/Rural Services to provide financial assistance, and from NHS to do the hands-on work needed to operate the unit and perform the outreach.

The mobile unit is tangible evidence of high-level cooperation between the nonprofit sector and a major federal agency, USDA/Rural Development. USDA funded the project with a customized mix of grants and loans, and Neighborhood Housing Services will service, staff and operate the mobile field office with funds from other sources. The project creatively addresses two issues: (1) The closure of more than 20 USDA/Rural Development field offices in Iowa, while needs remain to be met; and (2) The growth of under-served populations including expanding immigrant groups.

The mobile home, because of its mobility and the imaginative retrofit, has the capacity to serve nearly all of the 20 communities that recently lost services using the costs associated with only this one unique office and one staff.

Contact: Kathleen Moretz, Phone: (515) 277-6647
Tracking Number: 222
Winning Category: Program (Community Builder)

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Content Archived: April 20, 2011

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