Three decades of strategic focus on a small neighborhood in Hartford, CT, has helped Mutual Housing Association of Greater Hartford, Inc. (MHAGH) have a big impact. They primarily work in a few square blocks of the Frog Hollow neighborhood, where they have six affordable developments and nearly $75 million invested so far.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, they were able to break ground on their latest development at the end of 2020. Ribbon Row will total 89 affordable apartments, by combining 68 moderately rehabbed apartments at Park Terrace II, an existing MHAGH development, with 21 gut-rehabbed apartments at 316 On The Park. The one- to four-bedroom apartments will be open to families making between $26,000-$63,000 (25 to 60 percent of AMI) and will remain 100 percent affordable for more than 40 years. There are also 10 adaptable apartments for residents with disabilities. Expected completion is mid-2022.
All of this was made possible in part by the $500,000 predevelopment loan NeighborWorks Capital closed with MHAGH in 2019. The new funding not only refinanced a previous NeighborWorks Capital loan; it also covered the costs to get to construction closing for the two buildings. MHAGH has worked with NeighborWorks Capital since 2013.
“The NeighborWorks Capital loan is so flexible it allowed us to keep the building safe and secure while we waited for financing. Any expense that we didn’t have another source for, we were able to use the NeighborWorks Capital funds,” said Sarah Miner, MHAGH Director of Real Estate Development.
In Frog Hollow, 51% of families are at or below the poverty line. The neighborhood has 24% unemployment, and 30% have no vehicle access. Ribbon Row helps address that as a transit-oriented development, within walking distance to bus stations and CT Fast Track stations. In addition, the historic preservation project will use 4% LIHTC and energy efficiency upgrades will reduce the cost of utilities.
Focus on Neighborhood Needs
MHAGH was established by NeighborWorks America 30 years ago to help preserve affordable housing as properties were being turned to condos. The renovation of that initial property was the first project that NeighborWorks Capital helped MHAGH renovate in 2013.
“It was such an easy process. After that, we always go to NeighborWorks Capital when we need a predevelopment loan,” Miner said.
NeighborWorks Capital also provided an affordable loan for their office building.
“They did the refinance, which provided huge savings in monthly payments. We paid it off and own our own building – free and clear. That’s a big deal. It’s enabled us to continue to do our mission-driven work,” Miner said.
MHAGH works to acquire properties that have clear disinvestment and are not owner-occupied. The neighborhood has many multifamily units in historic buildings, some with known crime activity and neglect. 316 On the Park is a good example – located between two other MHAGH buildings and in need of updating, they jumped at the opportunity to acquire it from an out-of-state seller in 2016, and held it until renovations could begin in December 2020.
“We looked a few years ago at a heat map of where our properties are and looked at personal crimes – our properties were ‘cooler’ compared to the surrounding areas. It told us we might be doing something to deter that at our properties,” Miner said.
Their strategy goes beyond housing, to include education, financial management, and community engagement.
“We seek to transform the physical landscape and improve the overall quality of life in Frog Hollow by increasing the affordable housing stock, reducing blight, and engaging the community along the way,” Miner said.