Niagara Gazette

March 24, 2014

Isaiah 61, Highland Revitalization Committee teaming up for training program

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A pair of Niagara Falls housing organizations have teamed up to provide training in the skilled trades in the city’s North End.

The Highland Community Revitalization Committee and the Isaiah 61 Project are coming together to establish a training program similar to one currently run by the Isaiah 61 Project downtown.

Jim Haid, the program director for the Isaiah 61 Project, said the partnership makes sense for many reasons, but one of the most compelling is that his organization is in the process of renovating a vacant North End fire house into offices, a training facility and a reuse store.

“I think it’s a good way for us to put our foot in the door and get to know that community, part of the city a little bit more,” Haid said, “but also to begin to work with some of the potential students in that area.”

Haid’s organization began recruiting and training unemployed and underemployed city residents with the help of Orleans/Niagara BOCES instructors in the fall of 2012.

His organization partnered with the city and has been buying vacant, city-owned houses using them as working classrooms with the help of local contractors. After the houses are restored they are to be sold, with the city’s Community Development department providing low-interest mortgage options through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loans, to low and moderate income residents at the approximate cost of materials.

The partnership with HCRC will basically be an expansion of the downtown program, Haid said.

“It’s no different than what we’re doing now,” he explained. “It’s almost like a satellite class.”

The Isaiah 61 Project is close to completing its first renovation house on Whitney Avenue and will soon begin work on its next house on 16th Street.

Haid said his organization and HCRC plan to find a North End house for the next renovation project.

“This is going to be an exciting time to be part of the city,” he said.

Seth Piccirillo, the director of the Community Development department, has worked closely with the city’s housing organizations since starting with the city two years ago.

He said the partnership, which received a $10,000 grant from the city to get of the ground, is unique in that housing organizations do not often cooperate.

“I think the fact that they are partnering is a community victory,” Piccirillo said. “They’re organizations with two different mission statements, but really they have the same cause, to make community improvements.”

Piccirillo said housing organizations, and not-for-profits in general, can become territorial at times, as there is limited funding that they are all competing for.

“People are always concerned that, if I partner or if I give up some of my work there’s going to be a funding implication,” he said.

Part of the blame for the territorial nature of housing organizations lies with the way that HUD’s funding system works, Piccirillo said.

The fight for federal dollars encourages groups to stay in their own corners of the city instead of coming together to form a stronger network of organizations, he added.

“It’s not self-sustaining,” Piccirillo said. “So, these types of partnerships are really the way of the future.”

Charletta Tyson, the executive director of HCRC, has been with the organization since 2005, joining three years after it was founded.

The organization has concentrated on helping homeowners throughout its history, so the training and housing rehabilitation aspects of the partnership will be new to HCRC.

Tyson said long-time board member Joe McCoy, who left the area a few years ago, has been talking about rehabilitating North End houses as part of the organization’s mission since she joined HCRC.

“This was his dream and idea,” Tyson said. “Back when I first joined the agency in 2005, that was one of the first conversations we had with him.”

And the training aspect has become increasingly important as several major upcoming construction projects — the school district capital improvements, the Niagara Falls Intermodal Transportation Center — include minority hiring agreements.

“The unions were not being able to hire or meet their contractual agreement with the minority construction workers because there wasn’t enough available workers,” Tyson said.

Tyson agrees that agencies can accomplish more working together.

“I’ve always felt it was good to collaborate and partner with other agencies,” she said. “You get more accomplished with less resources.”

With the expansion of training services and housing rehabilitations into the North End the city will save more money in the log run with more residents finding work and less houses needing costly demolitions and, eventually, coming back onto the tax rolls Tyson said.

“It’s making the community stable, increasing the housing stock and also saving the city money on demolition costs,” she said.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257