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Achieving social goals in low-income housing.

Too often, the success of an apartment community is measured by its appearance and its financial performance. Most frequently overlooked is the achievement of the social goals inherent in low-income housing. Such social goals are very hard to quantify, and the degree to which they have been achieved is very difficult to assess. However, properties which fulfill these social aims do exist.

An outstanding example of a property that has made a successful commitment to social goals is Stewart Park Apartments, a federally assisted, 119-unit, rental apartment complex for low-income families located in Corning, New York. The Stewart Park Housing company has succeeded in meeting its physical, fiscal, and social goals by utilizing private ownership, professional management, volunteer talent, local fundraising, and federal housing assistance.


Stewart Park Apartments are owned by Stewart Park Housing Development Fund Company, Inc., a privately owned, not-for-profit membership corporation. The corporation was founded in 1971 by Christ Episcopal Church of Corning under the leadership of Rector W. Scott Harvin with the assistance of the Three Rivers Development Foundation, Inc.

The City of Corning had decided not to invest in any "bricks and mortar" for public housing but to support the "privatization" of all of its public housing needs. The city sold the corporation an 11-acre tract of land adjacent to the city's Stewart Park. This recreational part contains tot-lots, tennis courts, ball fields, picnic facilities, and a swimming pool.

The housing opened in 1973 with 120 dwelling units. In 1976, one townhouse unit was converted to a community center, and now there are 59 townhouse apartments in eight 2-story buildings and 60 garden apartments in five 2 1/2-story buildings.

The apartment complex was funded under Section 221(d)(3) of the National Housing Act with a direct mortgage loan of $2,859,000 at a below-market interest rate (BMIR) of 3 percent per annum for 40 years. The loan was originally issued by GNMA and has been resold several times since in the secondary market. The rental rates are set to break even on a cash basis after paying the mortgage payments, mortgage insurance, and replacement reserve funding (Figure 1).

For admission, a family's income cannot exceed the "lower income" guideline, while "very low income" families receive special priority for admission. The lower income guideline for moderate-income families is set at roughly 80 percent of the local median family income and the very low income level is set at or near the poverty level income (Figure 2). All 119 families at Stewart Park receive Section-8 rental assistance to pay the portion of their rent which exceeds 30 percent of their adjusted monthly income.

Setting social goals

In the successful management of an apartment community, an optimum balance must be achieved between the three critical areas of residential management--physical, fiscal, and social. All of these areas must be fully considered if the community is to be totally successful.

Success in the social area is the hardest to achieve. A comprehensive social program should be planned around people's needs. People should never be forced into programs "for their own good."

Figure 1

Stewart Park Apartments Rental Schedule
One bedroom $328
Two bedroom 382
Three bedroom, garden 426
Three bedroom, townhouse 436
Four bedroom 484

Figure 2

Income Guidelines
1 $16,500 $10,350
2 18,900 11,800
3 21,250 13,250
4 23,600 14,750
5 25,100 15,950
6 26,550 17,100
7 28,050 18,300
8 and above 29,500 19,250

Families must qualify by income level and their monthly adjusted income must be under the above limits for federally assisted housing in Steuben County.

In addition to income qualification, federal preference for admission to Stewart Park is granted to persons displaced by government action, to those living in substandard housing, and to those paying more than 50 percent of their income toward their rent. Persons in these categories are granted top priority and advance to the top of the waiting lists for admission. As with the lower priority applicants, the federal preference applicants are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis within their category.

In establishing Stewart Park Housing, the board made three social goals their first priorities:

* providing decent housing for low-to-moderate income families,

* enhancing the quality of life of the apartment community residents, and

* helping the residents to "bootstrap" out of their low-income circumstances and become self-supporting members of the greater community.

The first goal of providing decent housing could be met by keeping the property at least 95-percent occupied with low-income qualified families and by passing all the HUD's audits and building inspections with a satisfactory rating or better.

The second goal of "enhancing the quality of life" could be met by offering social, cultural, educational, and recreational programs that expand the resident's horizons. Measuring satisfaction in one's "quality of life" is taken from the individual's personal frame of reference. The best indicator of personal satisfaction has come from favorable comments made to the activity leaders by the residents. Other indicators are how residents treat the property and each other.

The third goal of "bootstrapping out of Stewart Park" could be met by encouraging residents to improve job skills through educational and vocational programs and to take advantage of counseling to help resolve personal problems. The management helped out by acting as "information and referral" specialists.

Successful bootstrapping could be determined in interviews at annual lease renewal time when jobs and current income information were discussed and in exit interviews when families moved out of Stewart Park.

Assessing the needs

One of the biggest problems in planning a social program for Stewart Park was determining how the residents wanted to enhance their lifestyle. One basic assumption had to be made--that a person's lifestyle can be enhanced through his or her participation in structured social, cultural, educational, and recreational activities.

Finding that questionnaires did not work, interest interviews were conducted on a one-on-one basic by management and volunteers to develop need profiles from which to shape the program's composition. Over the years, the numbers of participants in each activity and their feedback have been used to guide the program offerings.

Getting people involved

The social coordination efforts involved many groups of people who were dedicated to making the apartment community a better place in which to live. This commitment started with the owners, was coordinated by professional management, involved community organizations dedicated to social improvement, enlisted the support of motivated volunteers, and received the active support of the residents.

The owners were the key catalyst in making this comprehensive approach work. They had definable social goals and were willing to remain committed when the going got rough, even going nose-to-nose with social service and other governmental agencies.

The involvement of a highly qualified management staff has been one of the most critical variables leading to the success of Stewart Park. The principals of Stewart Park's management firm, EDC Management, Inc., shared the owners' sense of mission in attaining these property's social goals.

Over the years, the community managers at Stewart Park have been college graduates with a sociological orientation. The community manager was assisted by a college-trained activities director, who directed the social and recreational programs offered through the community center. Another college-trained staff member directed the nursery school and the parents' program.

Support from community organizations was another essential ingredient to assure that community programs got an adequate number of motivated individual volunteers and that the extra funding required to provide the facilities and purchase the program supplies could be raised. Well-connected owners' representatives in the community were essential to securing the cooperation of these community organizations.

This is another reason that privatized low-income housing managed by professionals has an advantage over public housing or that owned by absentee tax-shelter partnerships. People are very reluctant to donate time, talen, or money to the privately owned projects whose owners are "in it for the money." And they might perceive donations to public housing as another tax.

Last, but not least, came the individual volunteers, the "points of light" who have made America great. They came from churches, service clubs, youth organizations, schools, retired seniors, and just plain people with many talents to share.

The members of the board of directors were all community volunteers of the highest calibre. In 1987, founding director and former board president Walter E. Smith was the recipient of the annual Shand Award of the United Way of Southeastern Steuben County, given to a "Citizen-of-the-Year" for outstanding community service. In 1988, the then-current board president, James H. Kullberg, received the same award.

Bringing them together

While it is never welcome, a natural disaster helped to get these social programs off the ground. The greater Corning area was devastated by the "Hurricane Agnes" flood of 1972. Stewart Park Apartments opened in 1973 to admit a waiting list of flood victims and urban renewal displacees. Although the project was approved and underway before the flood, it was expedited with top priority from the federal government and local, state, and private disaster-relief agencies.

The unique thing about the Stewart Park experience was the ability to nurture and build upon that spirit of cooperation and human compassion which emerged after Hurricane Agnes. The national headquarters of the Mennonite Church sent a Menno Disaster Relief Team to Corning to help in the post-flood recovery, thereafter playing a significant role in the social development of the Stewart Park community.

The Menno team included a former missionary to Africa, Dorothy Grove, a fulltime volunteer who in 1976 started the Stewart Park Activities Program and served as its first activities director. The Volunteer Services program of Mennonite Ministries has supported at least one fulltime volunteer in the Stewart Park Cooperative Nursery School every year since.

The Rochester Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church established an Office of Human Services in Corning which helped direct human resources to assist in starting social programs in the greater Corning area.

Additional temporary unpaid staff positions were filled very successfully by college students serving a semester-long practicum for their human services degree at Corning Community College, or a cooperative education college student placed for a quarter-long or summertime field experience. Additionally, every one of the crafts and recreation programs involved at least one volunteer who shared his or her time and talent.

Financing the social programs

Community center program start-up and operating funding came from charitable, civic, and religious organizations. There was no single, big, contributing "angel." For short-range needs, churches, service clubs, and other local sources were asked for supplementary operating funds in small amounts--such as $300 a year to buy juice and cookies for the nursery school students or $100 for a community ice cream social.

It was found that a more positive response was obtained if the donor's contribution was dedicated to a specific use that they could point to and say, "We did that." People like to know exactly where they monty is going.

The successful long-range fundraising strategy was to approach local civic organizations, foundations, and church groups with a three-year written plan for the individual program to funded. Foundations will only give "seed money" to get started, usually phasing out their support in a few years.

In their presentations to funding providers, management showed how they would get the program operational and how it would be funded thereafter. It was necessary to show the donor that other parties had accepted the proposal and decided to invest time, talent, or money. The dollar value of services-in-kind from other sources such as management staff time, free rent and utilities, operating supplies, and free counseling services from governmental and social service agencies were a significant


portion of these donations. The value of volunteer labor was also listed as a contribution.

The City of Corning Recreation and Parks Department was an invaluable resource for local recreational programs. The excellent facilities and programs in the city's Stewart Park were utilized in joint recreational program sponsorship. The housing company had a college-student intern conducting recreational programs in the city park during the summer with other city youngsters invited to join with the apartment community residents to fill the available openings.

Last, but not least, was the residents' contribution of time and talent. Residents with special interests and skills were actively recruited to help, and many contributed immensely to the success of the activities programs. Also very important was their monetary contribution in the form of a "user's fee." Even if only a token, this commitment by the residents made participation more meaningful. Youngsters collected and brought deposit bottles and cans as their contribution. This was a necessary part of increasing one's self esteem and in developing self-sufficiency through personal commitment.

(Figure 3 shows a typical annual budget for the Activities Center Program's income and expenses.)

The final aspect of the process of raising funds from outside parties was the accountability to the donors. Every donation was acknowledged with a thank-you letter. A follow-up thank-you letter contained a final accounting report of how the money was spent. For larger grants, annual or other interim progress reports were issued. This accountability was essential to establishing credibility, especially if more funding was to be sought at a later date.

Over the years at Stewart Park, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church provided the seed money to start the Parenting Program; Corning Community Foundation funded the Nursery School; the Corning Northside Churches sponsored the first Community Center space; and the Presbytery of Geneva, the First Presbyterian Church of Corning, the Christ Episcopal Church, the Corning Rotary Club, and the Corning Lions Club made contributions to annual operating expenses of the nursery school and the parenting center.

Over the years, as the social goals were accomplished, the physical operating costs of the community center space and its payroll costs have been almost fully covered by the rental revenues. The ongoing program costs for the Nursery School, the Parent's Program, and the various recreational programs have had to be met through outside fundraising.

The programs

The social programs undertaken were recreational and educational in nature. These activities were designed to involve the entire family, to help enrich their daily lives, and to assist them with the management of everyday family life. The major social programs established were a cooperative nursery school and a parenting program, and a portfolio of recreational programs and activities (Figure 4). These activities involve crafts, skill-building, entertainment, games, personal development, physical fitness, socializing, sports, and recreational activities of all kinds.

The cooperative nursery school provided a pre-kindergarten educational program for 15 Stewart Park children of ages three and four on weekday mornings during the school year. The school followed much the same plan as Head Start. The "cooperative" part of the school was the requirement taht a student's parent be assigned to serve as a volunteer teacher's aide, rotating daily among the number of parents available.

In addition to teaching the parents some valuable parenting skills, this cooperative approach also minimized any possible opportunities for child abuse. As more parents bootstrapped themselves into productive employment, the pool of parents dwindled.

The graduates of the Nursery School have shown a marked improvement in their attitudes toward other people and in getting along with their families and each other. Their kindergarten teachers in the neighborhood elementary school noticed better performance by Nursery School graduates than by their older brothers and sisters who did not attend the school.

The Nursery School director was a fulltime, paid employee certified as a child development associate, who also served as director of the Parents' Program. The Nursery School Advisory Committee oversees the director.

Like most low-income family apartment communities, Stewart Park has a disproportionate number of single-parent families, mostly headed by women. These mothers have many common problems that can be shared through networking and the development of parenting skills. It is amazing that of all the skills that we teach in our society, we almost never teach the most important one--that of parenting.

When Dr. Lola Mitchell was manager of Stewart Park Apartments in 1984-1986, she also retained her part-time position as director of Camp Whitman on Seneca Lake, New York, the summer camp for the Geneva Presbytery. Through these ties to the Presbytery, she secured a three-year grant to establish a Mothers' Center at Stewart Park. This grant was matched with donations from other local churches.

The Mothers' Center Program was initiated with consultative services from the Family Service Society of Corning. Later, this program was broadened to a Parents' Program including fathers as well. The program consisted mainly of sessions with group interaction under the guidance of the director. Other approaches to resolving personal concerns have included one-on-one counseling or sharing one's concerns with another person in a network group. Persons needing professional counseling were referred to the appropriate community resource agencies.

Parents developed an awareness of unnoticed deficiencies in their skills. New friendships were formed within the community--residents visited each other in their homes as well as meeting during the Parents' Program at the Community Center. Newcomers felt more welcome and had an opportunity to develop friendships faster.

Through the Parents' Program, more and more parents gained greater self-confidence and were able to cope with what they perceived earlier as hopeless situations. Not surprisingly, the core members of the parenting group were those parents whose children had attended the Nursery School.

The networking also helped them develop a greater "sense of family" within their own individual families, within the apartment community, and with those in the greater community. Probably the greatest benefit experienced by the residents was to realize that other people cared about them, but no one wanted nor pretended to run their lives.

The other accomplishments

The property was kept at 99 percent occupancy and higher, with a waiting list. The property consistently received some of HUD's highest ratings for a federally insured, family project in the Buffalo District of upstate New York.

Financially, the project has been very sound. The mortgage payments have always been current. No pink slips or delinquencies have been incurred. The project has had a positive cash flow in every one of its 17 years. This cash surplus helped provide working funds to bridge the gaps in the receipt of grants for the social programs. Additionally, when some functional obsolescences in the buildings needed to be cured, HUD provided a flexible subsidy grant of $450,000 to supplement the replacement reserves in making the upgrades.

The property appearance has been immaculate considering the heavy use it has had. There has been negligible vandalism of graffiti. The residents have been involved in making their homes look better. There has been a pride in "their" community.

Youth groups sponsored by the complex have helped with the planting and care of the flower beds in front of the Community Center and at the entrance. The year that the maintenance staff planted the flowers, the beds were vandalized; but when the flowers were planted by the Tiger Cubs, Girl Scouts, 4-H, and Nursery School students, the flowers lasted until the first frost.

As multiple recreational opportunities became available, teenagers no longer loitered in hallways and laundry rooms, leaving cigarette butts on the floors. The drug problem has been minimal compared with other neighborhoods in the greater Corning area.

The final goal of self-sufficiency

Stewart Park residents came from the lowest income population mix in the area. However, after one year of residence, only 20 percent of the families required public assistance.

An average of 17 percent of the families annualy "bootstrapped" themselves out of Stewart Park into moderate income self-sufficiency. Some residents were able to secure higher income employment after earning their G.E.D. or completing a certificate or degree program at Corning Community College. Others were able to purchase their own homes, usually with federal or state mortgage assistance.

On the reverse side of the coin, 12 percent of the residents per year left in "not-good-standing" either through skipping out owing some rent or by being asked to leave because of rent delinquency or for irresponsible behavior. It was observed that the majority of those leaving in "not-good-standing" did not participate actively in the social programs, whereas the great majority of those who participated enjoyed "good-standing" whether they stayed or left. Management, must be prepared to accept the fact that in voluntary programs, some persons cannot or will not be helped.

All aspects of the apartment community are not yet perfect, but are moving in a positive direction. The systems and programs are in place to let the residents know that the greater community cares about them.

Donald B. Creath, CPM [R], is IREM's regional vice president for Florida and Georgia and is president of EDC Management, Inc., of Corning, N.Y. and EDC Management of Florida, Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida, both firms specializing in residential and office management.

Mr. Creath has been an IREM 101 and 201/202 course board member and seminar faculty member and has served on numerous IREM committees. He was chairman of the ARM Services and Recognition Committee in 1981 and 1982, and was a governing councillor in 1988 and 1989. At the local level, he was president of the Rochester-Western New York Chapter No. 58 in 1983 and of the Florida Atlantic Chapter No. 76 in 1986 and 1987.
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Author:Creath, Donald B.
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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