Home HeadQuarters

Building Community Partnerships and Revenue

Published March 5th, 2024

            Home HeadQuarters has developed a strong reputation for providing the loans, trainings, and other support required for expanding home ownership and improvement. What is less visible, however, are the strategies and structures they have developed for seeding and strengthening communities – both among their clients as well as among partner institutions. Studying their work reveals important lessons around how nonprofits can magnify their impact through the power of shared incentives and mutually beneficial relationship building.

Hundreds of volunteers organized by Home HeadQuarters come together during their annual Block Blitz event to improve properties through landscaping and home repair.

             “This year we are on track to build 40 new homes on vacant lots throughout the City of Syracuse,” says Chief Executive Officer Kerry Quaglia. “We’re also going to substantially rehabilitate about 25 housing units.” He explains that the properties they work on are primarily single-family homes that have undergone a foreclosure or are in need of major repair. Citing Syracuse’s 10% residential vacancy rate and the roughly 2,000 buildable lots across the city, Kerry says that Home HeadQuarters “has had abundant opportunity” when it comes to selecting development locations.

            While any new construction or home rehabilitation provides a boon for the city, Home HeadQuarters has made the leap from property development to neighborhood development by concentrating their projects instead of selecting locations at random. “What we are trying to do is not just build a house here or a house there, but really cluster our efforts,” says Kerry. “When we build these new homes, they are around homes that HHQ has already substantially renovated, and everyone can see that their neighbors have made these investments.”

A USA Today special interviewed Home HeadQuarters’ Deputy Director and Gifford Board Member Latoya Allen about her work facilitating home ownership in Syracuse.

            In this way, Home HeadQuarters isn’t just thinking about getting the houses ready for occupancy, they are thinking about the kinds of communities that will exist once construction is done. “When we built on Baker, Woodland, and Garfield, we constructed nine homes in that area. And immediately adjacent to that on State St. we are building six homes right in a row which will be a continuation of what we did on Woodland,” says Kerry. “Those folks get to know each other and will be there to support each other. All of them have been through our homebuyer training program and through our financial empowerment center, so we feel they are well positioned to be extremely successful.”

            In addition to the professional, primarily local minority contractors who are employed to perform new construction and home renovations, Home HeadQuarters has found value in inviting community members themselves from across Syracuse to provide hands-on assistance. Their annual Block Blitz event draws more than 300 volunteers who come together over a single day to repair, landscape, or paint as many as 50 homes.

The value of the labor given on that day is certainly significant, but much of the project’s value comes from the many months of preparation that go into organizing it. Home HeadQuarters staff must walk through neighborhoods knocking on doors in order to recruit residents who wish to have their property included. For many, the offer sounds too good to be true: a stranger offering to bring a team in to paint your fence and repair your porch for free? But these interactions eventually build the trust and relationships necessary to expand Home HeadQuarters’ client base, reputation, and reach.

To elevate the impact of the single day’s labor, Home HeadQuarters will coordinate their Block Blitz with other institutional partners who have an incentive to provide support. By selecting a street that is scheduled to be newly paved by the city, the transformation is magnified once the work is done. Secondly, the opportunities for hands-on volunteer work is attractive to many local companies. “We found that with our corporate partners, mostly banks and insurance companies, often they are looking for an opportunity to get their staff out of the office and have them work up a sweat,” says Kerry. “They use it as a team building exercise, and we are happy to encourage that. Then there is a gentle competition between them, so if M&T is at one house and NBT is at another – which house looks nicer by the end of the day? It’s all in good fun, but gets the competitive juices flowing.”

Recruiting volunteers for Home HeadQuarters’ annual Block Blitz isn’t just about the event itself – it’s about building trust and connections throughout the year with Syracuse residents.

Over the past several years, however, Home HeadQuarters’ partnerships with local banks has gone far beyond annual volunteer opportunities: a robust lending alliance has developed which has increased mortgage availability and accessibility in Syracuse – particularly among low-income and minority homebuyers. Here is how it works:

 

  • Home HeadQuarters provides a mortgage loan.
    • Home HeadQuarters provides loans to their clients who have participated in classes on home ownership and are working with an assigned Home Ownership Counselor. These individuals often lack a formal relationship with a bank, or have been turned down by their lending institution.
  • Home HeadQuarters sells the loan to a bank but continues to work with the homeowner.
    • Home HeadQuarters does not have the financial liquidity to keep providing mortgages independently. By selling them to banks, they can recoup their money and give out new loans. They continue to service the mortgage and guarantee that they will buy it back if the buyer defaults. This protects Home HeadQuarters’ relationship with the client and makes the purchase less risky for the bank.
  • There is something in it for everyone.
    • Home HeadQuarters benefits by replenishing its finances so as to be able to continue offering new mortgages to community members. The banks benefit by being offered low-risk access to new loans, from which they can collect interest. And because Home HeadQuarters is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), the banks earn community reinvestment credits by working with them. Most importantly, the community members benefit by having greater access to mortgages, greater support throughout the mortgage process, and by becoming clients of a bank which they may not have had a relationship with before.

Many companies are looking for community service projects that get their staff outside in the summer as a way to give back and as a team building activity. Bringing competing agencies to the same event creates healthy rivalries that ultimately fuel the work being done.

The urgency of this work is underscored by the historic and ongoing barriers to mortgage access that exist between communities of color and the banking system. “Only 30% of African Americans in Onondaga County own their homes, compared with 72% of whites,” according to Syracuse.com article by Tim Knauss. “That disparity is even worse than the national average gap of 29 percentage points.” In comparison, Home HeadQuarters has made more loans to Syracuse’s Black community than all other regional lending institutions combined. Over the past three years, KeyBank, Bank of America, and Well Fargo made a total of 72 purchase loans to owner-occupants in Syracuse. Only 15 of the borrowers were Black. Over the same period, Home HeadQuarters made 207 home-purchase loans in Syracuse, of which 126 of the borrowers were Black. (See source article on Syracuse.com)

            Looking ahead, Home HeadQuarters is partnering with Geddes Federal Savings, Solvay Bank, Seneca Savings, NBT, Fulton Savings, and Pathfinder banks to expand their mortgage financing program. Kerry hopes to increase their lending to $25 million in mortgage loans in 2024, up from $13.5 million last year.

            The collaborative lending model described above is a new idea that originated with Home HeadQuarters in Syracuse. Assuming it continues to function effectively, there is a high likelihood it will be replicated in other communities. NeighborWorks America, a national housing nonprofit of which Home HeadQuarters is a member, is already studying the program to see if and how it could be leveraged nationwide. For Kerry, however, success is measured by the impact here in Syracuse. “If this model works nationwide, great, but I really mostly care about this community and the neighborhoods and people we are serving,” he explains. “But it seems to be working for the banks, for the customers, and for us. It gives us more liquidity so we can do more of what we do – which is leveling the playing field.”

            Examining Home HeadQuarters’ story is a reminder that nonprofit missions do not exist in a vacuum. Although the focus may be on a specific area such as housing, these issues touch a diverse range of stakeholders in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors as well as community residents themselves. By mapping, studying, and investing in these networks, innovative solutions can emerge that unite otherwise competitive groups under a mutually beneficial framework.

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