Want to Lead Change in Your Community?


Monday May 30, 2011
By Patrick Morrissy

Comprehensive and successful community stabilization is a goal that eludes most of us - especially in the wake of the foreclosure crisis and in a down housing market - but one organization knows how to do it really well.

The Center for Community Progress led by Dan Kildee, former Genesee County (MI) Treasurer works with teams of public officials, CDC directors, state legislators, and others to bring systemic change to the archaic legal system that prevents communities from taking control of problem properties and putting them back into productive use. Along with legal and legislative fixes Community Progress assists the local players to manage the future of the properties under its control as part of an overall strategy for revitalization.

HANDS Inc. has worked with Dan Kildee and Alan Mallach, a senior fellow at Community Progress, and successfully developed a program that brought tremendous change to the neighborhoods in Orange, NJ a small city next to Newark. Led by HANDS, the comprehensive strategy in Orange started with a yearly house-by-house survey documenting the ownership, condition, tax arrears and lien status of every vacant home. A group of CrimeWatch and block association leaders were formed into the Community Problem Property Task Force. HANDS bought old property tax liens from out of state bulk investors and cleared title to long standing troubled properties. Working in coalition, led by the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ, the Abandoned Properties Rehabilitation Act brought dramatic powers to New Jersey municipalities to take control of vacant properties.

In response to the recent crisis, new strategies are being employed. HANDS purchased defaulted mortgages on 47 vacant deteriorated properties from a failing bank and has developed solutions for each property. The Creditor Responsibility Act was enacted and allows municipalities to hold lenders responsible for the condition of vacant properties in their foreclosure pipeline. New Jersey Community Capital, our statewide CDFI, is creating a Mortgage Resolution Fund that will purchase hundreds of mortgages heading for foreclosure and work to modify loans and keep borrowers in their homes.

Community Progress is currently working with Orange and four other NJ municipalities including Newark to rewrite municipal ordinances and educate legislators on the benefits our communities can achieve by changing the antiquated tax foreclosure system.

NeighborWorks America is working with Community Progress to bring their substantial experience and assistance to NWOs that hope to provide leadership in their communities on the issue of vacant properties and neighborhood stabilization. The Center for Community Progress is a tremendous resource and presents us all with a great opportunity to bring systemic change to our communities.

If you want to know more and connect with the work of Community Progress, contact NeighborWorks America Community Stabilization staff Sarah Greenberg or Ascala Sisk at [email protected]  

Patrick Morrissy is the Co-Chair of the NeighborWork America’s Community Stabilization Committee, Executive Director of HANDS, Inc. and a Board Member of New Jersey Community Capital.