New name, same mission for NeighborGood Partners
DOVER — After 47 years, NeighborGood Partners has rebranded and evolved its programming to financial counseling and business entrepreneurship. But its core goal continues to this day: working toward affordable housing in rural communities facing growth.
Founded in 1976 as National Council on Agricultural Life and Labor Research Fund, but better known as NCALL, the organization was launched to advocate for farmworkers’ living and working conditions in a time when few developers focused in rural areas. But today, NeighborGood Partners Executive Director Karen Speakman said the need is still great.
“We’re in an affordable housing crisis, and this has been something we’ve been going on even before COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “We’re seeing [real estate investment trusts] going like crazy, and people are having a hard time finding a home they can afford. And frankly, it’s compounded by people moving from other states.”
The median home price in Delaware as of September 2022 was $359,000, a 10.2% year-over-year increase, according to the NeighborGood Partners annual report.
NeighborGood works with various nonprofits to develop affordable housing options, like Better Homes of Seaford and other organizations on the Delmarva Peninsula. The nonprofit consults in finding land, exploring available tax credits or even seeing a project to the finish line.
Last year, 38 apartment units were completed for Millsboro Housing for Progress, and NeighborGood has two projects in the pipeline: Villa Maria with the Ministry of Caring in Wilmington and a new project in Laurel supported by the Sussex County Housing Trust Fund.
NeighborGood also maintains a longstanding contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to run a regional self-help housing program, where families come together to secure low-interest loans and do more than half of the labor on homes. Statewide, the nonprofit also worked with the state government on the Delaware Housing Assistance Program, which provided funding for households that made 50% Area Median Income or less. But since that program ended in early July, Speakman worries it may be harder for renters who suddenly take an income hit.
“So money will be harder to find for folks who have lost a job, or maybe getting divorced with how to pay their rent,” she said. “But we’re going to keep doing stabilization programs — how do we work with people on their budget skills, their credit score, as well as housing counseling and foreclosure mediation.”
Looking to the future, NeighborGood plans on doubling down on a new vision for Downtown Dover that not only includes building new houses but creating a safe community. In partnership with Project Safe Neighborhoods, the nonprofit opened a community resource hub and launched a youth mentorship program.
NeighborGood and West End Neighborhood House also started the Launcher program, a 12-week business education program offered twice a year. There have been 175 participants, with 65 businesses running to date.
But in the near future, Speakman said NeighborGood will focus on developing more affordable housing and focus on restoring central Dover. The Center, envisioned as a 6,000- square-foot building on West Division Street, will be key to that goal. Not only will it serve as headquarters for restoring central Dover staff, but it will include a small business incubator.
“We’re going to continue to look for where the gaps are and work to fill them. The housing crisis isn’t something the market can fix — and we’re open to other ideas as well,” Speakman said.