When the house Brooker Burton had rented for eight years in Old Anacostia was offered for sale last year, he wanted to buy it. Burton, 53, admits he didn't know how to get a bank loan. The process, he believes, is "too complicated."
Burton said he made several calls to city banks to inquire about a loan. "They acted like they didn't want to talk to me." Burton recalls. "I don't think an individual can get one (a loan) unless he knows someone." He stopped trying.
However, with the help of Neighborhood Housing Services, a private nonprofit community-based corporation that is operating in Old Anacostia. Burton and his wife, Annie, got a $26,000 loan this year from Washington Federal Savings and Loan to buy the brick duplex house, located at 1514 V St. SE. In addition, the housing services program loaned Burton another $1,100 out of its own revolving loan account to repair his roof. The Burtons take care of several St. Elizabeths Hospital outpatients at their home.
"They (NHS) took care of all the legal matters, gave me advice on what to do and stayed with me through settlement," Burton said. "I still go there for legal matters."
Being a homeowner Burton said, "feels good."
Washington is one of 37 U.S. cities that have Neighborhood Services programs. NHS was established by the Urban Reinvestment Task Force, composed of the heads of the federal financial regulatory agencies and the Secretary of theU.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was searching for ways to make banks and savings and loan associations more responsive to national housing policy and to the needs of old deteriorating city neighborhoods.
in Washington Neighborhood Housing Services has created an alliance of community residents bankers and savings and loan association representatives which during the past year, has been quietly working in Anacostia's historic district, called Uniontown.
With money borrowed with the help of NHS many Uniontown residents have fixed their leaky roofs, their broken down proches their faulty plumbing and some such as the Burtons, have changed from long-time tenants to homeowners.
Since June, 1976 dozens of loans totaling $735,000, have been made to residents of the depressed Uniontown area - a section of the city where loans have not been readily available in the past - through the housing services program.
Most of that money was in the form of conventional loans from city financial banks and savings and loan associations with a small portion loaned from the NHS revolving high-risk loan account at little or no interest. About 240 persons have been helped, either with loans or with counseling and advice according to NHS.
In contrast, a city-operated neighborhood improvement program operating in Anacostia for about a year has made 11 rehabilitation loans worth about $273,000, all of it in federal funds.
The Uniontown area targeted by the local NHS runs roughly from Martin Luther King Avenue to Good Hope Road and from Fort Stanton Park to Morris Road. It has narrow streets and small, narrow frame, brick, and stucco homes most of them with porches. The Cedar Hill home of abolitionist newspaperman author and orator Federick Douglass towers over the community.
Verna Smith, 42, said she had wondered for years if her old, screened back poreh used to store junk could be enclosed. She has seven children, five of them living at home, and the teen-agers often had complained that they had no special room in the house to entertain their friends. Before, Mrs. Smith and her husband, now deceased had fixed up their home little by little with what cash that they had available, she said.
It never occured to her to get a small bank loan to fix up her porch, Mrs. Smith said. She asked NHS for help and within 10 days she was told a loan from the National Bank of Washington where she has an account, had been approved.
"Sure enough, they told me something could be done," Mrs. Smith said. Her old back porch now has been converted into an inclosed recreation room, with a small bar and stools, heat, paneling, fluorescent lights, carpeting, and aluminum siding. She received a $4,900 loan, and is paying it back at $106 a month for five years.
The home of Patricia Robertson, at 1257 U St. SE, had a porch worn out from the weather and the children, no porch railing, broken water pipes -
"The water would just sprinkle through" - and her gas bills were high because she had no storm windows nor storm doors.
"I didn't even think of going through a bank," Mrs. Robertson said. "I had other bills and obligations." NHS couldn't get her a conventional bank loan, either, but it still was able to help her with a $2500 loan from its revolving loan account.
"If it wasn't for NHS, a lot of people couldn't get their work done. I know I couldn't have," Mrs. Robertson said.
Nationally, NHS organizations have helped community residents get 2,100 loans, worth $11.6 million, through banks, savings and loan associations or their own loan accounts according to task force reports from 33 NHS programs.
In a pre-election speech at Brooklyn College last year. President Jimmy Carter called Neighborhood Housing Services an "efficient proven way to stabilize neighborhoods . . ."
An in-depth study of six NHS programs, conducted by ACTION-Housing Inc, with funds from HUD found that because there are no governmental regulations to follow, the NHS programs had freedom and flexibility.
Financial institutions were vehement in expressing dissatisfaction with most federally run inner-city programs.
Indeed, most financial istitution representatives emphasized that they wouldn't have participated with NHS if the federal government were more than peripherally involved. Bankers and others providing funding expressed similar feelings according to the study.
Washington's NHS program was one of three expriemental programs established by the reinvestment task force in 1973. All three of those programs eventually had to be restructured according to a spokesman for the task force.
In Washington, the NHS program had such serious administrative problems soon after it began that in 1976 financial institutions refused to participate according to James W. Lowell a former priest and ex-college instructor who took over as director of the Washingon NHS in the middle of last year.
With Lowell, the D.C. NHS has itself an "energetic experienced" director who has helped the program turn into a "nice success story," said Micheal Melville, who is vice president in charge of consumer credit at the National Bank of Washington and chairman of the NHS board of directors. Melville, 32, said that when he agreed to work with NHS, "I realized it was an uphill assignment, but in a quiet way, we've been plugging away over there."
Lowell's housing experience varies from consulting in Jamaica on how to convert public housing into cooperatives to helping bankrupt condominiums on the East Coast get back onto the market.
The Washington program has a techinical staff of five persons, who explain to residents what it means to be a homeowner and who determine what improvements need to be made and how much a family can afford in loan payments Lowell said.
"We tell them this may mean they have to stop buying burbon and a lot more beer. No cigars, only cigarettes." Lowell said. Residents are told that though their mortgage payments may be less each month than their former rent, they have to pay out of their own money for a new sink or new carpeting or a new hose.
And perhaps most important NHS understands that many people don't know how to approach a banker about a loan and believes that some people considered to be bad credit riskd by conventional banking standards may deserve a second chance.
"Many people just don't know how to get a loan. They don't feel comfortable walking into a white bank. They feel they will be turned down automatically," Lowell said. "Fifty per cent of the people we help could get bank loans on their own if they knew how to talk to the banker."
If a bank or savings anx loan association can't be persuaded to give the client a rehabilitation loan, the housing services program has its own loan account to help. The money for the NHS revolving loan account comes from a $150,000 Ford Foundation grant, which has been matched with $150.000 from the Meyer Foundation, the Cafritz Foundation, and the Public Welfare Foundation Lowell said.
He said NHS loans usually are at 3 per cent interest or whatever the family can afford. There is no income limit for NHS help - family incomes range from $3.80 to $62,000 a year among those who have either gotten loans or advice on how to obtain bank loans, Lowell said.
Neighborhood Housing Services programs are basically the same in most cities but are tailored slightly to meet the needs of different communities.
For example, the NHS organization in Tampa, Fla., has designed a special program to help elderly homeowners bring their residences up to code standards. In Philadelphia, the organization lined up a health contractor to work with its clients in emergency situations during the winter. In Baltimore, which a task force spokesman said has perhaps the country's most outstanding program, NHS has helped increase homeownership in one blue-collar neighborhood from 30 per cent to between 75 and 80 per cent on several blocks.
When Sen. William Promire (D-Wis.) introduced a bill this year to give the VA investment task force a congressional appropriation, he said about Neighborhood Housing Services, "It energizes local resources rather than encouraging reliance on the federal dole. This is the kind of role for the federal government to play."
The bill would give the task force $10 million in fiscal year 1979, with more funds in succeeding years. The bill passed the Senate and is awaiting passage in the HOuse, according to task force information officer Myra B. Peabody. The task force now is operating with a $4.5 million demonstration grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and $500.000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank System.
Task force officials stressed, however, that the appropriation will not change the "nongovernmental, nonbureaucratic" nature of NHS - which they consider one of its greatest strengths.
The ideal NHS neighborhood has certain qualities, according to Myra B. Peabody, a spokesperson for the task force. The neighborhood shoula have sound housing in need of maintenance, a high degree of homeownership families with incomes at about 80 per cent of the citywide median level, difficulty obtaining mortgages and home improvement loans, and strong local incestment and support.
Lowell and city housing officials said that a working partnership is just beginning to evolve between the local NHS and the D.C. government. Residents, bankers, and savings and loan associations are represented on the governing body of the NHS. Lowell said the organization is considering adding some city representatives to the board.
Mary Kolesar had been head of the D.C. Neighborhood Improvement Program in Anacostia since May. She conceded that the number of loans made by the city is "not overwhelming," but she and city housing officials said the city program in existence only a year, is getting better and attracting more people.
The city-run program use community development block grant funds and federal rehabilitation loan money to enable families to correct all housing code violations at their homes with low-interest loans. It also has a deferred loan payment program and can refinance a family's mortgage.
Kolesar said the city program has had to earn the trust of Anacostia residents. Many of them came to live east of the river after urban renewal drove them out of Southwest.
"They aren't enamored with city programs," Kolesar said. "Their fear was that if you let a housing inspector in your house, they (the city) were going to take it from you. It's been a slow winning of confidence." The city office is getting more calls for assistance as people begin to see houses that have been completed, she said.