Home is where the heart is.
For thousands of individuals and families in the lower- and middle-income neighborhoods of Los Angeles, home is also a reality, thanks to one organization’s dedication over the past 35 years.
Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Los Angeles County was started in 1984 as a small local housing agency. But community support and outstanding impact has helped it grow into the largest nonprofit affordable homeownership provider in Southern California.
Today, its mission revolves around collaboration to “build stronger neighborhoods, improve the quality of life for low- to moderate-income families and revitalize communities into neighborhoods of choice.” To accomplish this, the organization provides a variety of services, including home lending, housing development, credit counseling, financial education, foreclosure prevention and more.
Eighty-nine percent of NHS clients are non-white, primarily Black or Hispanic. In the current environment, its services are taking on outsize importance as COVID-19 is hitting communities of color disproportionally hard – on top of existing racial wealth gaps and inequities.
“Home matters to people,” said Lori Gay, president and CEO of NHS. “They need to feel safe, they need to feel they’re in a place that’s habitable.”
Gay said that word-of-mouth is the number one factor that brings people to her organization. After seeing someone they know take a course in financial literacy or budgeting, or become a homeowner, that success shows others that they can do it.
In recent months, providing that assistance was made more difficult by the onset of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown.
“We had to move everything online.” Gay said. “This is the first time in our history where people are working remotely.” She added that the move is even more difficult for an organization that relies on the power of personal connections with its clients.
However, the NHS team has always prided itself on its ability to adapt quickly and effectively. Tactics may change slightly, but their mission remains the same, and their passion is as strong as ever.
Recently, that mission to help the communities of Los Angeles was assisted by a $75,000 donation from U.S. Bank.
The $75,000 in funding is part of the U.S. Bank Community Possible strategy, which includes working to make “Home” possible by supporting efforts that connect individuals and families with sustainable housing opportunities.
Gay said the money will help the organization continue to transition its staff to remote work – such as providing popular free financial counseling online – and ramp up capacity to accommodate more clients.
“Our services are up 400% for response calls”, Gay remarked.
Lenny McNeill, head of Mortgage Strategic Markets at U.S. Bank, has helped deepen the company’s relationship with NHS for the past two decades such as through serving as a chair of the Lender Support Committee.
McNeill said, “It’s been an honor and a pleasure to serve on the Corporate Advisory Board for NHS. I’ve been a friend, colleague, and partner of Lori’s for 20 years. During those years her passion while directing NHS to be a top affordable homeownership provider in the country is no surprise. If anyone knows Lori, it’s one speed, one direction, and one destination. It’s families benefiting from better housing, communities, and neighborhoods.”
As for the future, Gay knows it will be uncertain, but she sees hope. “Sixty-percent of people or more are calling about buying a house. They’re looking for online education. People are preparing for what they think might be coming.”
Gay and NHS also remain focused on the bigger picture.
“The thing I care about is legacy” she says. “How do we make sure everyone has equal access to property ownership?”
It means changing the system so that “Everyone”, as Gay put it, “gets a chance to play at the table.” It also means working harder than ever to make sure NHS can adapt and deliver on their promises to help transform communities.
For the past 35 years, that’s what they’ve always done.
Written by Ben Stevenson of U.S. Bank.