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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Every Little Bit Counts

I think it's human nature to love the grand gesture. There's something about the heroic struggle against all odds, the snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat, the wave of the cape, doff of the cap and the roar of the crowd in the thick of the prick of disaster and even if the achievement is temporary or illusory, we fall for the packaging and become enamored of the Edifice Complex (if it looks large, it must be wonderful). It's hard to NOT love a big project, isn't it?

It's hard to get excited about small steps, about one foot in front of the other, about how the steady pace can win the race when we don't really have an end in mind and those working on a solution are doing so with their voices lowered and their heads down.

One of the more destructive aspects to the economic body blows so many endured for the last year or so has been the further deterioration of Norwich neighborhoods as those struggling to hold on to their houses against the rising tide of mortgaged debt were forced to yield to foreclosure. The emotional and economic impact as we bade farewell to neighbors and friends added to the gloom and disquiet many of us were already feeling.

And yet, if not all around us, then close at hand, small beginnings on a road to recovery have been starting. We've spent recent months looking at seven and eight figure projects like the acquisition and remediation of the Norwich Hospital Site property, while already starting to reevaluate priorities for the next budget as prospective revenues continue to decline.

But quietly, in different neighborhoods spread across the city, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, NSP, has partnered with non-profits to purchase and reopen foreclosed houses and help families put a marker down on their own American dream.

The Norwich Assistant City Manager, whose position almost ended up on the bonfire of budget insanities last year, created the NSP from a shade less than $900,000 of federal stimulus funds, allocating $720,000 to purchase properties and reserving almost $100,000 for down payment and repair assistance to families who buy foreclosures in targeted areas of downtown and Greenville.

Down payment assistance is tied to eligibility, based on income, and a buyer has to obtain a mortgage and actually make the property purchase without the city's help, before applying. But if you qualify, the money starts as a no-interest loan and is forgiven at the rate of twenty percent a year for five years. It's a helping hand not a hand-out and the new homeowner isn't the only one who wins as a dead property is returned to the tax rolls and an empty house becomes a vibrant home and another active community component.

Next Wednesday, the 24th, at six o'clock in the Otis Library, there will be an informational session to explain the down payment and repair assistance programs and to assist those interested in accomplishing the applications. If you don't ask for help, the answer's always no. Why would anyone want to live like that?
-bill kenny