Isaiah 61 Offers Hope to Beleaguered City
By Tom Deal
As we continue to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to build affordable housing projects for the residents of Niagara Falls, 20% of the existing housing in the city sits vacant.
Yet we keep spending money on constructing affordable housing knowing full well that in 20 years or so we will have to remodel these units again or, worse, tear them down and start the same vicious circle all over again. The affordable housing experiment has failed us.
At the same time we are building housing projects, we continue to spend taxpayer dollars to tear down vacant homes in neighborhoods leaving behind vacant lots that stand as a symbol to our city's decline.
It was far different once. My parents were homeowners who took pride in their home. They cut the grass, cleaned, repaired and kept up our house, as did all the families in our neighborhood.
My father was a mechanic, my mother worked in a doctor's office. Together they supported us with the wages they earned. We were not rich, but we had pride in ourselves, pride in our home, pride in our neighborhood and pride in our city.
In order for Niagara Falls to rise again, we need to rebuild this type of pride.
This is where the Isaiah 61 Project and its leader Jim Haid come in.
The Isaiah 61 Project tackles the three, biggest fundamental issues that are troubling Niagara Falls today: education, employment and housing.
This not-for-profit group is working to convert city owned vacant homes into working classrooms and then into homes for low/moderate income Niagara Falls residents.
While doing so, they teach construction skills to the unemployed, as they rebuild vacant homes and this in turn revitalizes and fortifies neighborhoods.
The Isaiah students divide their time between classroom and actual work on vacant houses throughout the city, which provides hands-on training of trade skills to students in the program who wish to make better lives for themselves.
Learning from skilled instructors, and turning that education and experience into a career, brings pride to the students, not just because it is a job that puts food on the table, but because skilled trade workers improve the communities they live in as well.
It's training a new workforce for jobs that are going to be available in our community, a win/win for all of us.
When the Isaiah 61 Project comes into a neighborhood and rehabilitates a house, especially where the neighbors thought the house could never have been saved, it can also flip the psychology of a neighborhood. When the rehab on the project house has been completed, perhaps the worst house on the block becomes the anchor for a newly energized neighborhood. Rebuilding and reenergizing neighborhoods is essential to any plan to help Niagara Falls rise again.
After the house is repaired, the program gets these once distressed, but now rehabbed homes into the hands of new families - who are home owners - and back on the tax rolls.
If you rent a house, you don't always care what happens to it. But if you own a house, you have pride and respect it more. As a long time Realtor, and a homeowner myself, I know from experience, there are few feelings in this world that can beat the feeling of pride that comes from walking through the front door of your very own home for the first time. That pride of ownership feeling is one of the reasons people choose to own a home in the first place.
The City of Niagara Falls has begun to realize that you cannot demolish your way to success. You need to start turning around dilapidated housing and get it back into productive use. As evidence of this understanding, the city wisely, just recently announced plans to sell additional vacant houses to the Isaiah 61 Project instead of tearing them down.
The Isaiah Project also recently acquired an old fire hall on Highland Avenue from the City that will be rehabilitated and used as their headquarters. This facility will allow them to further grow, to house their offices and classrooms, and to open a re-use store that will sell fixtures from the old homes that they rehab that are not needed in the repair of that particular house, but should not be discarded.
The Isaiah 61 Project has support from religious groups, government agencies, corporations, and local businesses. It was recently awarded a grant from the New York Power Authority which will enable the agency to hire an additional skilled trade instructor.
Are you or your business looking to help reclaim and rebuild Niagara Falls?
If so, the Isaiah 61 Project has ways for you to assist. Check out their website (www.isaiah61niagarafalls.org) for more information.
And for those of you who wonder about the name, Isaiah 61, it comes from that passage in the Bible and the agency's mission: "They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations - Isaiah 61.
A perfect name for a wonderful organization.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
Jan 07, 2014