Teamwork transformed housing opportunities for Western Mass

Media Coverage | Feb. 13, 2018

The Republican: Written by Peter Gagliardi, President and CEO, Way Finders

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Since 1972, Way Finders has witnessed firsthand the transformative change that can be achieved when nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies join together to provide support to individuals and families in our communities.

We are grateful for the commitment of many local and regional businesses that support Way Finders' services in Western Massachusetts. We could not do our work without the support of these businesses who share in our vision for building stronger, more vibrant communities and providing opportunities for people to thrive.

Together, with our partners and collaborators, we help people acquire safe, secure housing for their families, provide access to skills training and job placement services, financial education, first-time homebuyer classes and foreclosure prevention services. Additionally, our community engagement initiatives empower neighborhood residents in developing solutions to improve the overall health and well-being of their communities. Helping people find a place to call home has long been the core of our mission at Way Finders, and part of these efforts focus on education and support for community residents who are considering becoming homeowners for the first time.

What we've learned through our years of service is that a significant number of area residents who approach homeownership are not financially prepared and are in need of long-term assistance from trusted resources. To meet these needs, Way Finders has increased its offering of financial capabilities and homeownership education services that are available to the general public in several ways.

First, the Orientation to Homeownership, a free two-hour workshop offered twice monthly, gives an overview of all Way Finders programs and ends with a self-assessment that generally encourages attendees to choose financial education before taking the First-Time Homebuyers Workshop. In fiscal 2017, 324 individuals completed an orientation.

Furthermore, Way Finders continues to offer rigorous case management services to rental voucher holders who are interested in economic mobility. In addition to building financial capabilities and continuous coaching, participants receive individual support to further education and employment goals. In fiscal 2017, enrollment increased by 54 percent and further increase is expected in fiscal 2018.

One business relationship that has been instrumental to our success in supporting our financial education and economic mobility participants is with Citizens Bank. For over 12 years, Way Finders has been the beneficiary of support from Citizens Bank, and recently, the bank has been able to increase their giving to Way Finders by utilizing the Massachusetts Community Investment Tax Credit program.

The tax credit program is an innovative approach to funding that is designed to support high-impact community-led economic development initiatives through a strategic, market-based approach that leverages private contributions and builds strong local partnerships.

In fiscal 2017, Citizens Bank staff assisted Way Finders in four events, including two first-time homebuyer workshops, a mortgage product discussion for economic mobility program participants and a "Meet the Lender" event. Through our partnership with Citizens mortgage loan officers, 11 first-time homebuyers were able to achieve homeownership in fiscal 2017. Since July 1, an additional seven workshop graduates have achieved homeownership with financing through Citizens.

Many of those buyers benefited from discounted interest rates through the Massachusetts Housing Partnership product, which offers a publicly funded subsidy to homebuyers and a loss reserve fund to the bank. Massachusetts Housing Partnership is a statewide public nonprofit affordable housing organization that works in concert with the governor and the state Department of Housing and Community Development to help increase the supply of affordable housing in Massachusetts. Massachusetts Housing Partnership was established in 1985 to increase the state's overall rate of housing production, and they have provided innovative homeownership programs since 1991.

These statistics demonstrate the recent impact of our work with Citizens Bank: In fiscal 2017, Citizens provided $1.5 million in private financing for Way Finders graduates, representing 11 homes total. Citizens used the state-backed Massachusetts Housing Partnership's ONE program for nine of these homes.

So far this fiscal year, Citizens Bank is assisting 30 percent of Way Finders' homebuyers with mortgages. Citizens Bank has generated $1.37 million in private financing (nine homes total) for Way Finders graduates, and $957,000 in the Massachusetts Housing Partnership product (six homes).

Citizens Bank further contributed to Way Finders when George Rosa joined our board of directors in fiscal 2017. Rosa, a regional manager, has years of experience with branch operations, lending and local business.

The need in our region continues to grow each year and with the continued help of philanthropic businesses, Way Finders is ready to respond. We ARE stronger together, and, together, we will build a brighter future for families, neighborhoods, and communities in Western Massachusetts.