Niagara Gazette

September 23, 2013

Power Authority funds allow Falls' Isaiah 61 Project to expand

By Justin Sondel justin.sondel@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A housing rehabilitation and job training program will be able to expand thanks to a boost from the New York Power Authority.

The Isaiah 61 Project, a nonprofit that trains unemployed and underemployed residents while rehabilitating vacant, city-owned homes, was awarded a $154,500 grant last week.

Jim Haid, Isaiah 61’s program director, said the allocation will allow the organization to triple its class sizes, add two new teachers for one year and buy tools and other classroom equipment.

“We have so many individuals who are coming to us looking for training,” he said. “We have a huge waiting list right now.”

And with additional students and teachers the project could take on more homes. At the current class sizes the group can rehabilitate one to two homes a year, but with expanded classes Haid estimates they will be able to handle three to five houses a year.

The Isaiah 61 Project works with the city to identify city-owned houses that would make good candidates for the program. After the houses have been rehabilitated the organization plans to sell them to low-income families and individuals.

“That’s a huge asset for low-income families that are looking for a home that will be affordable,” Haid said. “It’s also going to help the city reduce blight and strengthen neighborhoods.”

The Isaiah 61 Project has become a popular cause in the Falls enjoying the support of the city, Orleans Niagara BOCES, real estate agents, local contractors and major construction supply outlets.

In addition, the Isaiah 61 Project has been awarded major gifts by the John R. Oishei Foundation and Key Bank’s philanthropic arm.

The city’s Community Development department assisted the group in applying for a grant from the state’s Regional Economic Development Council that would allow them to turn an abandoned Highland Avenue fire hall into a re-use retail warehouse, offices, classrooms and work space.

Mayor Paul Dyster, who has been a vocal supporter of the project since the partnership with the city was forged last fall, said the many entities willing to contribute to the nonprofit serves as proof of the sound mission the organization has crafted.

The program will likely receive the state grant because it accomplishes so much for a relatively small amount of funding, Dyster said.

“We feel that, whatever level of funding we receive from the Regional Economic Development Council, that project is likely to advance,” Dyster said.

Dyster said the program is also a prime candidate for funding because it can be expanded and emulated in other communities.

“We also think it’s a program that can be modeled in other upstate cities that face exactly the same situation with surplus housing and people in need of jobs,” Dyster said.

State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, sponsored legislation that invests money from excess power sold back to the grid into organizations and businesses within a 30-mile radius of the Niagara Power Project.

Maziarz said he called members of the power proceeds board of directors to lobby for the project to be funded.

“They’re doing great work,” he said.

The senator is so impressed with the work that Isaiah 61 is doing that he is working on setting up a meeting between Haid and Darryl Towns, the commissioner of the New York State Department of Housing and Community Renewal.

“He said I was so enthusiastic that he had to come out and see it himself,” Maziarz explained.

The project provides the sort of programming Maziarz had aimed to assist when he was helping to craft the legislation, he said.

“This is exactly the type (of organization I had in mind),” he said. “Teaching young people skills.”

Big red number $155K Amount of grant awarded to the Isaiah 61 Project by the New York Power Authority.

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