The Essex Community Heritage Organization offers a range of housing and community revitalization programs and services including:
Affordable Housing: Essex County Homebuyer Assistance Program.
Homeownership not only benefits the individual household. It also benefits the community when a renter becomes a tax paying, stake-holding property owner with a long-term commitment to the community. Increasing homeownership makes for more stable communities. Homeowners have a stake in and long-term relationship to their community that renters may not. This can lead to greater citizen involvement in further community revitalization efforts.
A main barrier to homeownership is the difficulty of lower income households saving enough for down payment and closing costs. Our program provides assistance to allow lower income households to succeed at homeownership. Often this means they are able to leave substandard rental properties and start building equity in their own homes. The program provides financial, credit and homeownership counseling, both before and after the closing, to ensure that families will succeed. With the help of private donations and funds from ECHO, we also have an emergency fund to help homeowners who run into problems.
So far, with additional follow-on awards in 1998, 2000 and 2002, we have helped 108 Essex County households to own their own homes, providing a total of $1,402,864 in down payment and closing cost assistance. Before the end of the year we expect that number to rise to 123 families helped. Since its inception, the program has leveraged $4,662,284 in mortgage funds from financial institutions. Not only has this helped new homeowners, but has also been a boost to participating financial institutions and local real estate agencies. Employers support the program because it helps their employees to become homeowners, hence stabilizing workforces and communities.
Debra O’Neil, is now working as HOME Program Director, and is busy administering ECHO’s fourth grant, awarded by the New York State Housing Trust Fund Corporation in 2002, in the amount of $500,000. Previous grants awarded in 1996, 1998, and 2000 have been fully expended. Through those grants, $1,175,000 has been administered to eligible first time home buyers to assist them with the purchase of an affordable home in Essex County.
To date, over 100 households have received financial assistance through the HOME Program, allowing them to build equity for themselves as home owners.
Typical ECHO Home grants during recent 1996-2000 grant periods were less than $14,000 per household, and could be expended from the HOME Program Fund itself. However, now it is becoming necessary to provide more grant monies per household, and to work in conjunction with other State and Federal programs, such as USDA or the Housing Assistance Program of Essex County, in order to be able to provide enough funds to meet the increasing housing costs.
ECHO has been providing advice and assistance to owners of historic buildings since the early 1970s. In addition, advice and assistance is available to lower income residents of Essex and Willsboro for any housing problem. Contact the ECHO office at 518-963-7088 or e-mail ECHO at [email protected]
Tenant Housing Assistance
ECHO has purchased and rehabilitated several historic homes as affordable housing. ECHO continues to seek additional opportunities to acquire and rehabilitate residential properties as affordable rental housing. ECHO has purchased the historic Barton House in Willsboro. Using a Adirondack North Country Community Improvement (ANCCEP) grant, the exterior of this main street landmark has been restored. ECHO is seeking funding to complete the rehabilitation of the Barton House as four units of affordable rental housing.
Arts in Education.
ECHO’s architectural education program, North Country Heritage (NCHAEP), has been offered in area schools since 1987. The New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and participating schools fund the program, which teaches children about basic architectural concepts and their local architectural heritage. Over the years we have conducted residencies in three school districts: Moriah, Westport and Willsboro. The annual residencies, conducted for fourth grade classes, run daily for two to four weeks. The purpose of the program is to encourage children to become aware of the built environment; to appreciate their architectural heritage; and to establish a connection to the community in which they live. Activities include research, drawing, model making, photography, writing and oral presentations. In Moriah and Westport the residencies culminate with an architectural/local history tour of the community. In Willsboro, students have studied the architecture and cultures of New York City.
This year ECHO conducted residencies in Moriah and Westport Central Schools. As a result of faculty and school administration changes, the program was not requested in Willsboro. In addition to these residencies we are putting the finishing touches on the Adirondack Architecture Curriculum, preparing it for peer review in the fall. The Adirondack Museum has agreed to provide us with imagery for the publication and a companion Compact Disc of images that will accompany the curriculum packet at a nominal fee. The project has been funded by NYSCA, the American Institute of Architects, and International Paper Company. The curriculum includes background information, lesson plans, learning activities, imagery and a resource listing for teachers.
As of this writing the future of ECHO’s architectural education program is uncertain. In order to apply for funds from NYSCA we must have committed ³educational partners (i.e. school districts). Due to cutbacks in State educational funding, local schools have slashed all but the most essential programs. In Moriah, an exemplary arts-in-education program, twenty years in the making, was eliminated by the school board this Spring. The loss of Moriah as an educational partner was not anticipated and the demise of their arts programming is indicative of the funding challenges ECHO faces in continuing the North Country Heritage Program in these small rural communities.
We are investigating other avenues of funding our educational services. In January we collaborated on a grant application with the Essex CountyHistorical Society for funding to conduct a joint project in area schools. The project would be funded at $3,000 per year for a two-year period and would give us the opportunity to continue our fourth grade program and refine the Adirondack Architecture component. The application was made to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, based in Washington, D.C. Decisions on grant applications will be forthcoming in October.
This is a challenging period. Our hope is that we will find new funding opportunities that will allow us to fulfill the educational component of our mission. Members who have are interested in assisting in this effort should contact Bonnie MacLeod through the ECHO office.
ECHO continues to hold and administer 21 architectural and conservation easements which protect buildings and properties in Essex and Willsboro.