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Ending homelessness in Philadelphia

January 31, 2013

LISC and NEF join Project H.O.M.E. in a transformative collaboration offering permanent supportive housing and services

When Khalaf Dow was a child, his family struggled with homelessness and extreme poverty. He was one of the 3,000 men, women, and children who are living homeless in Philadelphia on any given day. Luckily, his family found Project H.O.M.E., an organization that works to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. Through a combination of permanent housing, education, and support of case workers who believed in his potential, Dow managed to complete his GED, pursue his education, and find meaningful employment. He continues to take giant strides toward self-sufficiency.

khalaf dow

Once homeless, Khalaf Dow now helps Project H.O.M.E. build affordable housing.

A testimony to his success, most recently Dow was working as a carpenter and mason on Project H.O.M.E’s new development: JBJ Soul Homes. The newly constructed, four-story mixed-use development will offer ground floor retail beneath 55 apartments for formerly homeless and low-income men, women, and children.

For Project H.O.M.E., JBJ Soul Homes reflects its latest success in leading a collaborative approach to ending homelessness and poverty. For Dow, the project represents the impact Project H.O.M.E. has had on his life.

The convergence of Dow’s accomplishments with JBJ Soul Homes also highlights the two significant factors contributing to Project H.O.M.E.’s success thus far: a collaborative, strategic approach to developing permanent housing; and a comprehensive approach to helping people help themselves.

Strategic partnerships

The organization’s ability to inspire collaboration has allowed it to take full advantage of the strengths of other organizations. With an investment of $11 Million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits, for example, LISC and NEF joined the group of organizations, agencies, public officials, and philanthropists Project H.O.M.E. has marshaled behind its ambitious vision to end chronic street homelessness in Philadelphia.

Through its partnerships, Project H.O.M.E. has been able to quickly expand its housing stock. So far, it operates 356 units of permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless. The organization’s goal is to build 500 affordable units over the next 5 years.

Capital for pre-development

And with a recent “transformational” gift from Leigh and John Middleton, Project H.O.M.E. may be able to reach its lofty goal. “The Middleton Partnership,” as it’s called, has provided Project H.O.M.E. with enough seed capital to start projects like JBJ Soul Homes quickly by attracting additional financing, funding and support needed.

In the case of JBJ Soul Homes, Jon Bon Jovi’s JBJ Soul Foundation provided the critical funding that ultimately made the project possible. Finding a major sponsor for the development then allowed Project H.O.M.E. to redirect the Middleton funds to support its next major housing project.

Leveraging tax credits

LISC and NEF also played a key role in JBJ Soul Homes by helping leverage Low Income Housing Tax Credits or LIHTC. Under the program, TD Bank,  invested $11 million of capital through NEF’s investment fund into the project. And this equity, which covers 67% of the cost of the development, does not have to be repaid. In return, TD Bank earns a 10-year tax credit, which lowers its overall tax liability dollar-for-dollar.

The LIHTC program is the most successful production financing tool for affordable housing that has ever come out of Congress.

The LIHTC is an example of a public-private partnership between private investors and public lenders. Because the program consistently delivers on its goals of building and preserving affordable rental housing, it has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress.

“The LIHTC program is the most successful production financing tool for affordable housing that has ever come out of Congress,” said NEF’s Debbie Burkart. Since its inception in 1986, the LIHTC has led to the construction of over 2.4 million housing units. And at its peak, the program led to the creation of 140,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenues annually.[1]

In the current climate of fiscal austerity, many tax credit programs like the LIHTC have been scrutinized. At the same time, according to Harvard University estimates, there is a national shortage of about three million affordable rental units. [2]  Proponents of the program have defended it wholeheartedly, citing the need and demonstrated success of programs like LIHTC.

The real impact of permanent housing

Taking JBJ Soul Homes as an example on the ground, the benefit of LIHTC is clear. Formerly homeless and low income individuals and families will have an opportunity to safely get off the street and begin rebuilding their lives. Contractors and workers like Dow are provided employment opportunities in the construction. And the Francisville neighborhood gains additional retail, community, and office space in place of a vacant lot, in addition to new neighbors and more eyes on the street.

What’s more, Project H.O.M.E. has demonstrated the broader economic impact of its permanent housing developments. For example, Econsult showed that Project H.O.M.E. housing led to increasing property values in their neighborhoods, valued at $24,000 per homeowner. Their services also contributed $10.6 million toward the City’s tax base (Estimating the Local Economic and Fiscal impacts of Project H.O.M.E., 2011).

This research challenges preconceptions that affordable rental housing drives down property values and lowers tax revenues. It validates the importance of programs like LIHTC, policies that support affordable housing, and comprehensive approaches like that of Project H.O.M.E.

Housing alone is not enough

For Dow, permanent housing on its own was not enough. Dow’s story really demonstrates the power of the approach to solving the problems that lead to homelessness and poverty. Project H.O.M.E. does this by helping those who are living homeless or in poverty connect to employment, education, and medical care, in addition to housing. Dow’s contribution to the success of JBJ Soul Homes also reflects Project H.O.M.E.’s larger vision for a strong community of mutual accountability and responsibility.

First, Project H.O.M.E. looks at the whole person and the whole household. In addition to housing, they work to connect people to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities, too. For example, when Dow needed work, he found a job with Project H.O.M.E.’s Page Café. Working with Project H.O.M.E. tutors, Dow managed to pass his GED test. And by working with the College Access Program (CAP) at Project H.O.M.E., he was accepted to The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trade.

What’s more, individuals who are empowered to set their own goals and take steps toward meeting them are more likely to succeed. Dow always had a dream of owning his own business, and he liked the hands-on work of carpenters. Working with Project H.O.M.E. enabled him to move toward his goal, step-by-step, building his confidence and level of self-sufficiency in the process.

A community of support and accountability

The biggest strength though, according to staff and residents alike, is the community. The feeling is that everyone – staff, residents, partners, clients – are all in it together. The struggle of the most vulnerable is the struggle of the larger community. This sense of mutual commitment and accountability, while not clearly measurable, is certainly meaningful and contributes to Project H.O.M.E.’s overall effectiveness. For example, Project H.O.M.E. Permanent Supportive Housing has a retention rate of 95 percent after one year, compared with the 80% average nationally.

More specifically, Project H.O.M.E. offers a welcoming, non-judgmental environment – especially crucial for a population that’s used to being debased, isolated, and criminalized. And those struggling with addiction or mental illness may not be ready when they first connect with Project H.O.M.E. But they are always welcome to come back. Residents say that unlike a shelter, Project H.O.M.E. offers a community where they don’t feel judged where they know they can come back if they stray.

Every child has dreams – and sometimes when you lose your dream, you need a shoulder to lean on. Project H.O.M.E. has been my shoulder and helped me realize my dream.

Before Dow found his own path of self-sufficiency, he struggled in high school and eventually dropped out. But when he was ready to start working to support himself again, he found work with Project H.O.M.E.’s Page Café. And eventually, he decided he was ready to tackle his GED, apply to trade school, and pursue his dream of owning a business. At every step, Project H.O.M.E. has offered creative ways to support and empower him. “Every child has dreams – and sometimes when you lose your dream, you need a shoulder to lean on,” Dow explained. “Project H.O.M.E. has been my shoulder and helped me realize my dream.”

During his summer and winter breaks from school, Dow now works as a contractor on Project H.O.M.E.’s developments, including the James Widener Ray Homes, the first development of the Middleton Housing Partnership, and the JBJ Soul Homes, the newest Middleton development. He is also on track to finish a masonry degree later this year.

Khalaf Dow and Project H.O.M.E. have come full circle. Once homeless, now he is helping build future permanent supportive housing for Philadelphia’s homeless population. Dow’s story is a poetic allegory for Project H.O.M.E.’s vision: “None of us are home until all of us are home.”

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