The story of how NeigborWorks® Salt Lake came to be has the makings of a classic Jimmy Stewart movie. The little guys take on the big guys and win! It all began in 1977 in the scrappy neighborhood of East Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. The little guys were ordinary folks, residents of East Liberty Park, who loved their neighborhood even though it was older and had fallen upon hard times. The big guys were the large lending institutions, who at that time, found it difficult to make home improvement loans in a neighborhood that was considered in decline.
In characteristic movie hero fashion, the little guys took a stand. They united and brought together a unique partnership of local businesses, city government and neighbors, to form Salt Lake Neighborhood Housing Services or NHS. This new non-profit was based on a successful model recommended by the Urban Reinvestment Task Force, a program of the Federal Home Loan Bank. It had been created in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by Dorothy Richardson, a woman who had faced the same challenge in her neighborhood – declining urban home values - as residents and businesses moved to the newly developed suburbs. (A year later Utah’s own Senator, Jake Garn, was instrumental in helping to pass legislation to create the national Neighborhood Reinvestment Act.)
From the first NHS office on 9th East and 9th South the three new Neighborhood Housing Services staff members and 13 board members, focused on rehabilitation and beautification; flood control; zoning to preserve the residential character of the neighborhood and energy conservation. They even created a tool lending library. David Nimkin, the first NHS Executive Director, describes it this way, “At the core the organization was a unique partnership based on complimentary self interest. We were local residents committed to preserving and protecting the neighborhood in partnership with local businesses and financial institutions providing mortgage credit and capital, along with local government putting capital improvements into the neighborhood as well.
This was, in some respects, the first real public/private partnership that was established that was a real one, and it was based on everybody giving something and getting something in return.” Ted Wilson, who was the mayor of Salt Lake City at the time, adds, “When NHS talked about getting sponsors and participants and people who would not normally be involved from the business sector it was really very, very exciting!” He also liked the idea that NHS went right down to every door, every porch, to everybody, “NHS had a plan for renewing neighborhoods, for integrating multiple levels of housing, for including everybody.”
Today East Liberty Park and the 9th East and 9th South area, stand as a thriving, energetic example of an NHS success. It’s a community of families, businesses, and valuable real estate. NHS set the standard for what a city neighborhood could become. With hard work, perseverance and supportive partnerships, the residents saved their neighborhood! In fact they were so successful that in 1982 NHS was asked to expand into the Poplar Grove area and the next year East Liberty Park was declared self-sufficient! “When we started the whole thing with NHS it’s kind of like we gave birth to this incredible organization,” relates NHS founding board member, Tom Godfrey. “We know it’s incredible 30 years later. At the time it was like I imagine parents looking at a child. You have hopes and aspirations, but you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen. And I have to say after 30 years that NHS has exceeded our expectations.”
With the move to Poplar Grove, Neighborhood Housing Services continued to flourish and three of the organization’s core programs were born – Paint Your Heart Out, YouthWorks, and the Owner Built program in which NHS works side by side with residents to help them build their own homes. In 1983 Kathy Sheaffer became the new executive director. “What impressed me the most,” she says, “is that the residents were the heart beat of the organization and the staff worked with them toward a common purpose and a common love – to make sure their voices were heard in order to identify core community needs.” Paint Your Heart Out brought hundreds of volunteers together from area businesses to paint the homes of the elderly, needy and residents with disabilities. YouthWorks was created to help troubled youth. It became a stellar job and life skills training program, known throughout the nation for teaching at-risk youth the ways and means to better themselves, and in the process contribute to the community. The program later caught the attention of journalist Bill Moyers, and was featured in the PBS special, What Can We Do About Violence.
By 1984 NHS was working with the city to develop a Land Use Master Plan. The revolving home loan fund had gone from $36,000 in the beginning years to over $1.32 million. By 1988 nearly 5,000 residents had received home rehabilitation assistance. And by 1989 NHS had begun a statewide housing initiative, working on ways to make affordable housing and home ownership a reality for those who otherwise would not be able to realize the American Dream of owning a home. During all this time Neighborhood Housing Services not only concentrated on the brick and mortar of building houses. They also brought neighbors together to celebrate and build community. They facilitated neighborhood parties, fairs and fundraisers. They assisted in the formation of community councils, and always made sure that residents in the areas they served formed the foundation of the NHS board of directors. In late 1990 Maria Garciaz took the helm as executive director. She knew the organization well, having been instrumental in the creation of YouthWorks. Under her guidance NHS expanded into the Guadalupe, Jackson, and Oniqua neighborhoods. A partnership with the Salt Lake City Police Department was formed and the NHS Community-Oriented Policing program began, with the first annual “Northwest Night Out Against Crime.” That year the Northwest Merchants Association, a new commercial program, was also created. Garciaz says one of the primary reasons she has stayed with NHS for more than 2 decades is the core organizational value of rebuilding communities by being neighborhood based, “And when you do house-by-house, block-by-block you get to know people. And it’s about bringing people together, identifying their needs, and really seeing who you can bring to the table to address those needs. And the people who come to the table to help make a difference in the community have been tremendous over our thirty years.”
The 1990’s were a prosperous time for Salt Lake Neighborhood Housing Services. The organization was selected for the national Neighborworks© Campaign for Home Ownership. The Homebuyer’s Club, TLC Minor Rehab Program and the First Mortgage programs were launched. NHS now had over $3 million in the Revolving Loan Fund and a new NHS newsletter, with updates on events, activities and programs, began distribution to over 8,000 residents. In 1996 Salt Lake Neighborhood Housing Services was recognized by President Bill Clinton for outstanding revitalization efforts. NHS was in full swing with the building of their first subdivision – Argyle Court; Rendon Court and Hodges Lane would follow. By 2000 they had expanded into the Glendale, Rosepark and West Capitol Hill neighborhoods. The new millennium has been good to NHS. In 2001 Utah’s first Home-Ownership and computer center opened serving NHS residents. CitiFront, an $18 million, 155-unit apartment complex was completed on the site of the old Rancho Lanes bowling ally, and The Westside Leadership Institute was created in partnership with the University of Utah and Salt Lake City Weed & Seed. WLI is a leadership training course taught by community leaders and University faculty for college credit to educate and strengthen the community through leadership opportunities. Today NHS is now named NeighborWorks® Salt Lake (NWSL), and has a staff of 15 and employs about 45 youth a year, says Garciaz, “We’re not only doing home improvement loans, we’re doing multi family development, 155 units, doing major subdivisions, 19 units, serving thousands of residents.” But NWSL's greatest strength is still its partnerships, uniting residents, with the private sector and local government. The synergy this unique coalition ignites, invites engagement and creative solutions. The East Liberty Park residents who founded the organization thirty years ago knew this, and it’s still true today!
This list of those who have helped NeighborWorks® Salt Lake become what it is today is thirty years long. So many have stepped forward to contribute resources, talent, and expertise. Ideally, says Garciaz, neighborhoods would no longer need the organization, “It would be nice if there were no blighted neighborhoods and you did not need to revitalize neighborhoods. But that’s not the case. NWSL is in great demand and the challenge for us is really expanding into other neighborhoods. Not just in Salt Lake City, but also statewide.” So NWSL is accessing other communities, trying to see who the partners are, what resources are needed. “The great thing about NWSL, she says, “is the passion behind the mission and all the people that are willing to come together to help the organization grow.”