Niagara Gazette

December 6, 2013

Nonprofit home rehab project growing in the Falls

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

— The Isaiah 61 project is gearing up for renovation work on another house.

The not-for-profit group, which provides labor training to unemployed and underemployed residents while fixing vacant homes, is drawing near completion on the renovation of its first project located on Whitney Avenue.

Jim Haid, the program's project manager, said demand for training has been growing and the second house - along with a newly-hired instructor - will allow his organization to expand its class size.

"Nearly every other day we're getting inquires from people looking to enroll in the program," Haid said.

The city council is expected on Monday to consider a measure that would allow Mayor Paul Dyster to execute a contract with the program for a 16th Street home that would become a working classroom for the students.

The house is on a list of predetermined properties approved by the city's planning board that can be sold to the Isaiah 61 Project - or other groups willing to enter into similar contracts - at a cost of $500.

The organization, which has received much support from the philanthropic community in its first year, accepted a $35,000 donation from Key Bank this summer. That money is set to be spent on materials for the 16th Street house.

Haid said his organization hired Jack Hanna, who will join the program's first instructor Dennis Luzak, as part of a partnership with Orleans Niagara BOCES.

Hanna will begin training and work on the 16th Street house while Luzak wraps up renovations on the Whitney Avenue home, which is already being shopped by Deal Realty, he added.

"The program is really growing," Haid said. "We're closing in on 25 or 30 students this session."

Dyster, who has championed the program since Haid came to the city with his idea last year, said the Isaiah 61 Project has been grabbing the attention of state leaders as well. 

The program was featured in a slide during a presentation from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office during a recent visit, Dyster said.

"Because there are a lot of other municipalities in upstate New York that face the same problems there's a lot of excitement about this," Dyster said. "A lot of people are watching this program. I think it kind of hit a raw nerve."

One of the most appealing aspects of the program is that it's scalable - meaning it can be done on just a few homes or many at the same time. It can be used as a model in cities of varying sizes and states of abandonment, he said.

"It's onesy-twosy right now," Dyster said. "But it could be dozens of buildings and hundreds of buildings at some point in the future."

Dyster said that, while the impact of one or two houses on the city as a whole may not be statistically significant, the work the program has done to help people find employment and give relief to homeowners living near those houses has been great.

"Right now, it's largely symbolic, kind of like a pathfinder program," Dyster said. "But, that doesn't mean that something like this can't grow very quickly to where it's having a demonstrable impact by the numbers."



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