By Justin Sondel email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — A faith-based organization working to restore city homes got a big check this week.
The Isaiah 61 Project, a not-for-profit that buys and restores city-owned homes while providing job training to underemployed and unemployed people, received a $35,000 gift from Key Bank that will be used to buy materials for the group’s second project home.
Jim Haid, the organization’s project coordinator, stood in front of the dilapidated 16th Street home Friday morning and excepted the check during a press event attended by city employees, officials from the bank and representatives from other organizations that have been involved with the group’s work.
Haid said the bank’s gift will help his organization and the neighborhood, which is filled with well-kept houses with blooming gardens, by bringing life back to the house.
“We are reclaiming the city, literally, one home, one family, one person at a time,” Haid said.
The gift will not only help the organization restore the house but will provide a “working classroom” for the students who will earn certificates from Orleans Niagara BOCES will preparing the house to be sold to a family.
“We can reclaim a house, reclaim a city and put these individuals who are unemployed and underemployed back to work so we can reduce the unemployment rate in Niagara Falls and lift the city back up to its greatness once again,” Haid said.
Key Bank joins a long list of donors who have seen promise in the project. The John R. Oishei Foundation gave a major donation of $200,000 earlier this year and other companies such as First Niagara bank have given their financial support.
In addition, many companies have offered in-kind donations such as materials, labor or technical assistance. Mikelly Contracting has helped by assisting with training and acting as the general contractor on the organization’s first project house on Whitney Avenue. H.W. Bryk & Sons Plumbing and Newman Electric have also helped with training.
Deal Realty has recently offered to help by marketing the houses — meant for low-income families — once repairs are complete.
Marie E. Hare, the vice president of Key Bank’s philanthropy and civic affairs division, said the company wanted to get involved because they see a lot of promise for the program.
The skills learned by program participants will have a lasting affect on the entire community, she said.
“This is training that you can’t take away from them,” Hare said. “They’ll have it forever and they’ll be able to obtain living wage job opportunities to take care of themselves and their families.”
Hare said that the participation of so many community partners — in particular the Oishei Foundation — gave the company confidence that there money would be put to good use.
“I know they do their due diligence before they support an organization,” Hare said.
Haid first approached the city’s Community Development department about a year ago to discuss the possibility of purchasing the homes at a discount for their purposes. Since then the city has created a formalized and streamlined process by which the Isaiah 61 Project and other organizations can choose from a list of available city-owned homes and purchase them for $500, so long as they agree to a list of conditions in place to protect the city’s interests.
Mayor Paul Dyster said the not-for-profit’s work creates real, measurable value for the city from assets that are a negative drain on municipal finances, but also changes the attitude of the entire neighborhood.
“Just as one house starting to go bad on an otherwise good street can turn the street in the wrong direction, one house that gets rehabilitated on an otherwise good street solidifies that entire neighborhood,” the mayor said.
Dyster said that demolitions are important in a city and region that has suffered great population loss, but any house that can be rehabilitated and put back to use puts value back into a neighborhood.
“We recognize that we have a responsibility to do demolitions,” he said. “We’re going to keep doing demolitions on houses that are past the point of no return in Niagara Falls. But we also know we can’t demolish our way to revitalization in the city of Niagara Falls.”Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257