Columbus Council allocated just over $376,000 Tuesday night to NeighborWorks Columbus, Inc., most of which will go to expand the non-profit’s Columbus Cottage program.
More than $252,000 of the money, which comes from unused federal grant funds that would expire soon if not allocated toward a project, will be used to build Columbus Cottages. NeighborWorks, which traditionally has only been able to build one cottage a year, will be able to build four, according to Cathy Williams, executive director of Neighborworks.
The increase is possible not only because of the funding, but because of a change in the way the program operates, Williams said.
The program is still, as it has always been, aimed at the poor who are living in substandard housing. Before, Williams explained, cottage recipients did not own the small homes. At the time of their deaths, the property would revert to the program, to be used for another needy family or individual, or the family could purchase it from NeighborWorks.
Now, Williams said, the program is more of an “empowerment” than an “entitlement.” Cottage owners will have not only the investment of their own land in their home, but they will pay some of the costs toward construction of the new structure. The amount they pay will be determined by how much they can afford, Williams said.
“If it costs $100,000 to do the reconstruct, but they can only afford a $60,000 mortgage, that’s the mortgage they will pay, up to 30 percent of their income,” Williams said. “That way we can build more.”
Williams said building one cottage a year was not having the impact on the city that she wanted the program to have, and she wanted to see the cottage recipients have more “skin in the game,” and get more out of it in return.
“We really weren’t assisting the families in building a family asset,” Williams said. “We’re always talking to our cottage recipients, and theysaid they really missed having that asset to pass down to their family. They really wanted to own the property.”
Williams said NeighborWorks has so far built about a dozen cottages, but with the new approach, they hope one day to be able to build six to 10 a year.
“Our vision at NeighborWorks is to eliminate substandard housing, and we believe that this is finally the path to achieving that,” Williams said. “I’m really pumped.”
The other funds, $123,442, will go toward purchasing and renovating a single-family home in east Columbus for resale to an eligible family. To be eligible, the household must make below 80 percent of the area median income. In this area, that would be about $46,000 for a family of four, Williams said.