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Community partnerships increase service accessibility and brand recognition


Colin Kelley, Chief Executive Officer, NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania

Challenge: To expand the scope and geographical reach of housing services through partnerships with community development agencies across western Pennsylvania.

4 men hold home sweet home and welcome signs

NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania creates greater neighborhood wealth through financial education, coaching and community leadership development. Throughout the early 2000s, the organization primarily provided homebuyer education services, and didn't serve communities beyond the city of Pittsburgh. Then, in 2008, the housing crisis rocked the nation's economy, followed by the Great Recession. Many western Pennsylvania residents faced foreclosure, and the unemployment rate in Allegheny County in February 2010 was 8.7 percent — admittedly a full point less than the national rate, but still not a number to be proud of.

NWWPA decided to expand its services not only geographically, but also into the offices of other service providers. Our goal was to increase access and to provide new services to residents in financial crisis. Temporarily, our focus shifted from promoting homeownership to keeping residents financially secure.

We brought services directly to clients' homes and workplaces and developed a “satellite model,” in which we partnered with different community-based service organizations. We developed a partnership with the Pennsylvania CareerLink system, the statewide unemployment and job search center, which brought our services as far north as Crawford and Mercer Counties, and as far south as Washington County.

We also found ways to increase access to our services beyond our main office based in downtown Pittsburgh — a problematic location for some clients because transportation and parking are difficult. Therefore we identified redevelopment areas — Garfield, Homewood, Larimer, the Northside and South Pittsburgh — and co-opted trusted neighborhood organizations to help nurture brand-recognition in each community.

We sought to connect with those in need, provide counseling and ultimately help them stabilize their financial lives. Many of these clients were long-term residents who felt disenfranchised, and thus disengaged from the community development process. But in order to be truly successful in these communities, we knew we had to reach long-term residents. Consequently, our neighborhood partners had to meet certain criteria:
  • Be a community-based organization or a resident-driven community development corporation.
  • Provide supportive services that complement credit, budget, and pre-purchase counseling services.
  • Have a long standing history of community engagement.
The Kingsley Association in Larimer, with whom we partnered in mid-2013 to serve residents of East End, is a perfect example:
  • They have a history of service dating back to the late 1800s.
  • They provide additional social services, hosting a local Family Support Center and entrepreneurial support organization.
  • The Larimer Consensus Group, a high capacity community-based organization, calls the Kingsley Association home.
Since partnering with Kinsley, NWWPA has gained the trust of long-time residents and Consensus Group members, most notably Betty Lane, a prominent community advocate and leader. We now provide financial education workshops and counsel a steady stream of clients.

Though the economy is improving, our clients continue to seek our help to repair credit as they rebuild their financial lives. At its peak, in the midst of the Great Recession, NWWPA provided counseling services in five western Pennsylvania counties and staffed as many as 16 satellite locations. Currently, NWWPA provides counseling and education at seven sites in Allegheny and Lawrence Counties, and at our HomeOwnership Center, and we continue to seek out new ways to serve those most in need in our community and beyond.

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