Stamford Non-Profit Worked To Keep People Housed During Pandemic
Nashaun Young enters her apartment on the fifth floor and lets out a contented sigh.
“It’s an amazing thing when you're able to live somewhere that is beautiful and be able to pay your rent and still put food on your table,” she said as she showed off her colorfully furnished three bedroom apartment.
Young lives at Marshall Commons in Stamford -- one of ten apartment complexes run by affordable housing organization, New Neighborhoods. She moved into her fully-renovated apartment five years ago, and she said her favorite amenity is the personal washer and dryer.
But aside from the beauty of her apartment, what she appreciates the most is the price.
“It kills you when you pay so much rent,” Young said as she remembered when she was paying market rate prices for housing. “I worked but I had to have a couple things on the side to help me out. I was definitely stretched and I felt I was always robbing Peter to pay Paul”
New Neighborhoods rental rates are cappedby the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) based on the average income levels in the area. And many tenants, like Young, receive state or federal subsidies for housing costs. Young receive housing cost assistance from the Housing Choice Voucher Program, or Section 8. With that extra help, Young said she pays less than 30 percent of her income.
In a county, where more than 50 percent of tenants are rent burdened, or pay more than the encouraged 30 percent by HUD , Young has a foundation to live comfortably -- a luxury not many have when rent takes a large chunk of their paycheck.
And that’s what New Neighborhoods hopes to make the norm. It owns and runs over 400 units across Stamford, Norwalk and Danbury all offered at below market rate prices -- which in the area would be around $2,500for Young’s three bedroom apartment.
For over 54 years, the organization's mission has been to offer stable, fair-priced housing in Fairfield County. And that hasn’t changed during the pandemic. As many tenants stopped paying rent at the beginning of the pandemic because they were unsure of what was to come, New Neighborhoods found alternatives to help.
It started a rent bank, or a reserve of donations from different local banks, to help tenants struggling to pay rent and applied for federal rent relief on behalf of tenants.
“It's what makes us different as a mission-driven affordable housing organization compared to a regular landlord who just wants to get their rent and move on. We want to help them through these challenging times,”said Jamey Healy, New Neighborhoods’ President and CEO.
But that’s not to say the organization didn’t feel the toll of the pandemic, like many other property owners across Connecticut.
“There were a lot of people that initially got laid off, there was a lot of fear of what would happen. Many tenants were holding their funds because they didn't know what was going to come next,” said Healy.
Healy said the income decrease was a concern for the organization as staff paychecks, repairs and property bills depend on a healthy cash flow. And eviction moratoriums didn’t make it any easier.
“The burden was put on the property owners. And, as a blanket solution, it kept many from solving issues with troublesome tenants,” Healy said. “ I think one thing that really helped tenants more than anything was the adjustments on unemployment benefits. That kept cash flowing and kept them home so they didn't have to go out looking for work at a time where we had a lot of uncertainty.”
New Neighborhoods was able to withstand the financial hit, Healy said, due to its model and size.
“We have 426 units but when you have a property that is only 10 units, if you have two units in that property not paying rent that's 20 percent of your revenue that being frozen. That can be devastating,” Healy said. “It’s possible that companies can fold completely because of it.”
Throughout the pandemic, New Neighborhoods has managed to stay at 100 percent occupancy. In other words, when someone moves out the organization works rapidly to get someone to fill the apartment. While it’s sometimes difficult to run at full occupancy, the organization said it’s worth it as the need for affordable housing only increases.
In Fairfield County alone, there is a shortage of more than 21,000 affordable housing units, according to a recent report funded in part by the state Department of Housing. And with rental prices skyrocketing, more and more people are becoming eligible for affordable housing.
“Affordable housing is not just for those who make $10,000 a year. In this area some people that qualify for affordable housing could make anywhere between $80,000 to $100,000 a year,” said Jerome Floyd, New Neighborhood’s Director of Property Management. “When people hear affordable housing they need to take a look back at what it really means.”
Nashua Young expressed similar sentiments. As a single mother she said she sees the benefits daily from having more money for her daughter to feeling less stressed about her finances.
“Affordable housing is a positive,” Young said. “It gives people an opportunity to build themselves.”