Building Community | 25 years of home, for all
- Published: December 30, 2023
This is the 12th in a series examining the meaning of community through the eyes of residents working to build and shape it in Yellow Springs.
This year, affordable housing nonprofit YS Home, Inc. reached two major milestones: The first phase of its upcoming 32-unit combined senior rental and all-ages, for-sale townhome development, The Cascades, was fully funded — and the nonprofit celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Home, Inc. has been working to establish increased senior housing in the village for more than a decade. The nonprofit’s successful first step toward making that long-held vision a reality is a fine way to celebrate 25 years — and a testament to the patience and fortitude on which Home, Inc. itself was built.
In 1995, the seeds of the soon-to-be-grown Home, Inc. were sown — to start with, on somewhat rocky ground.
That year, then-Village Council members Deborah Benning and Don Hollister recommended that affordable housing become a priority for the Village. To illustrate their commitment to that priority, Hollister and Benning, along with then-Township trustee Roger Lurie, signed articles of incorporation for “Yellow Springs Home Inc,” in order to: “help long-term Yellow Springs community members remain in the area; to maintain economic diversity in Yellow Springs; to promote racial integration in Yellow Springs; [and] to encourage the neighborly relations best achieved in a small village.”
The action came amid discussions around building affordable homes on Village-owned Glass Farm land on King Street. Local residents Susan Stiles and Ilse Tebbetts — who would go on to become longtime Home, Inc. board members — had helped secure more than $1 million in funding to subsidize low-interest mortgages for homes that could have been built on the Village property.
“And there was an uproar in the community about that,” Marianne MacQueen told the News in a recent interview. MacQueen was a member of Home, Inc.’s first all-volunteer board when it officially became a nonprofit in 1998 and, later, its first executive director.
MacQueen said villagers couldn’t agree on whether the Village-owned Glass Farm land should be donated to a housing project or be sold.
“There was this period of back-and-forth divisiveness on Council, partly as a result of opposing or supporting affordable housing,” MacQueen added.
Ultimately, the proposed Glass Farm project didn’t move ahead — nor did a follow-up proposal to site affordable homes on another portion of Glass Farm several years later. The second effort, MacQueen said, was even more contentious than the first. But MacQueen — and Home, Inc. — persisted.
“It was such an awakening to me to see, frankly, prejudice against affordable housing, in my opinion,” she said. “That was what motivated me to then decide to stick with Home, Inc. and become the director [in 2002].”
Despite, and amid, community discord over the second Glass Farm proposal, Home, Inc. purchased its first property: a two-room home on North High Street that would be partially demolished, redesigned and enlarged. Local architect Patty Rice volunteered her services to design the rehabbed home, and local contractor Chris Glaser gave his time to oversee the groups of volunteers who built it.
In 2001, Home, Inc. sold the North High Street house as its first affordable home via the community land trust, or CLT, model, which enables residents to purchase homes on land owned and stewarded by Home, Inc., in an effort to keep the properties affordable in perpetuity. Using the CLT model, the nonprofit has built or rehabbed 40 homes and apartments for residents of low to moderate income over 25 years.
“I’m not a betting person, but I’d bet there’s no other community in the country that’s as small as Yellow Springs that has this kind of organization,” MacQueen said. “Truly, the organization shouldn’t exist — what’s that they say, that bees shouldn’t be able to fly?”
MacQueen referred to an oft-cited anecdote: that bumble bees’ bodies seem too large for their wings, but they fly anyway. And Home, Inc. will continue to fly, MacQueen said, as long as there are folks in the community willing to support its work.
“On the one hand, there has been this opposition in Yellow Springs to affordable housing consistently,” MacQueen said. “On the other hand, there has been an amazing amount of money and time donated by people in the community. People have really been committed to Home, Inc.”
Expanding, maintaining home
On a recent weekday afternoon in the Millworks offices of Home, Inc., staff and board members gathered around a table and reflected on Home, Inc.’s 25 years.
“I’m going to be 30 in March,” Outreach and Fundraising Manager Alexandra Scott said. “So that puts things in perspective for me — that’s almost my whole life.”
“You read News articles from back then, and it’s the same conversation,” Board President Chris Bongorno added. “Despite all the work that this organization has done, [affordable housing] is a persistent issue.”
Those around the table spoke with the News while they assembled the annual gift of sweet treats Home, Inc. delivers to homeowners and renters in December, tying bows and affixing them to cards. This object lesson in collaborative multitasking was, in its way, emblematic of Home, Inc.’s two-and-a-half-decade modus operandi: The nonprofit goes where the need is.
After MacQueen retired and current Executive Director Emily Seibel took the helm at Home, Inc. in 2011, the nonprofit began to widen its focus to include creating and maintaining affordable rental housing.
“There aren’t a lot of multifamily rentals happening in places like ours, even though the need is there,” Seibel said. “Nobody else was going to do it — so we said, ‘We need to step up and do this so that we can meet more of the needs in Yellow Springs.’”
In 2018, Home, Inc. built the six-unit Forest Village Homes, its first slate of affordable multifamily rentals — and the first apartments to have been built in the village for many years. Forest Village was followed in 2021 by the 12-unit Glen Cottages pocket neighborhood, a combination of rentals and for-sale homes.
When it comes to buying a home, Program Manager Chris Hall is often the first person folks meet at Home, Inc. He’s on hand to walk folks through the purchase process from start to finish and answer questions along the way — and they often have a lot of questions, because buying a home can be daunting.
“We work in an industry that’s oftentimes highly predatory, and buying a home is something that they don’t teach in schools,” Hall said. “A lender might tell a person they can afford a house — because on paper, they can. But I’ve never met a lender who asks, ‘Where do your kids go to school? Do you have an aging parent who you’re helping out?’”
Home, Inc.’s relationships with homeowners don’t end once titles are signed and keys are handed over; the nonprofit offers ongoing financial education programming to both prospective and existing homeowners and renters, as well as home repair grants — Home, Inc. has disbursed about $300,00 in such grants this year. The nonprofit also supports and guides homeowners who are experiencing a “trigger event” that could affect their ability to pay their mortgage.
Intervention in these areas has meant that, in 25 years, there has never been a foreclosure on a Home, Inc. home.
Likewise, Home, Inc. works with renters to ensure that deposits and rent payments don’t overwhelm an individual’s or family’s resources.
“We don’t want to set someone up for failure,” Development Coordinator Brittany Keller said. “We might give someone a lease addendum where they can pay their deposit over several months — especially because they might not get their deposit back until they leave their old place.”
Folks who don’t buy or rent from Home, Inc. can also receive some services from the nonprofit: Hall is one of only a few people in Ohio who is certified to package low-interest USDA Rural Development loans. Because of Hall’s expertise, Home, Inc. is able to offer the loans to low-to-moderate-income buyers purchasing homes outside of the nonprofit. The loans can also benefit existing low-to-moderate-income homeowners who need costly home repairs by refinancing their mortgages at a lower interest rate.
“It’s another pathway to affordable homeownership that we’re helping people navigate,” Hall said.
Really knowing and understanding affordability needs in Yellow Springs, Seibel said, means knowing and understanding the people Home, Inc. seeks to serve, and learning from them.
“People are the experts of their own experiences, so they’re in the best position to help identify and implement solutions,” she said. “There are multiple lived experiences within Yellow Springs.”
To that end, the bylaws of Home, Inc.’s board stipulate that one third of its trustees must be constituent representatives of low to moderate income — a practice Seibel said is critical to Home, Inc.’s success by ensuring its priorities are identified and driven by those whose needs the nonprofit is working to address. Seibel added that, outside of this requirement, the board also aims for diversity across a range of identities.
At the same time, Home, Inc. is connected to Inclusive and Resilient Yellow Springs — a coalition convened by Scott that also includes Antioch College, Livable/Equitable/Age Friendly Yellow Springs, YS Schools, The 365 Project, the Senior Center, the Village of Yellow Springs and the YS Community Foundation — which aims to support diverse communities by identifying and removing barriers to opportunity and success.
Though Home, Inc. is one of a growing number of CLT-modeled nonprofits in the U.S. and globally, its varied focus on creating housing, offering support services and education and developing local relationships in coalition is unique — enough that the nonprofit receives a few calls each month from other communities looking for advice on how to do the same.
“It’s remarkable for a community of this size to not just say, ‘Oh, we’re going to look to a neighboring municipality and see what they’re doing’, and then try to replicate that,” Bongorno said. “And Home, Inc. has not just punted along, maintaining the status quo it had 10 years in — every few years, there’s some substantial growth.”
Seibel attributed that growth, in part, to Home, Inc.’s understanding that providing housing access to more people in Yellow Springs not only benefits those people, but enriches the village as a whole.
“I think we all want to live in a place where people work and live and send their kids to school and are able to retire and volunteer and give back to the community,” she said. “A strong community embraces all of those things — for all people.”
What home means
Stephanie Richards moved from a farm in rural Xenia to Yellow Springs in January 2020 with her two daughters — Gretchen, 11, and Gillian, 7. The move was precipitated by a separation from a partner, Richards told the News via phone this week. She said she chose Yellow Springs after taking classes at John Bryan Community Pottery.
“I kind of fell in love with the town and the pottery studio,” she said. “I grew up in Lancaster and spent most of my adult life in Columbus, but Yellow Springs was the first place I really felt at home.”
Richards — who now serves on the John Bryan Community Pottery board and is grants and operations coordinator for the Morgan Family Foundation — initially rented after moving to the village, but wanted to buy a home of her own for her family. When she contacted Home, Inc. to inquire about adding her name to the waiting list of prospective homebuyers, she said she was wary that her previous years of being a stay-at-home mom would put her out of the running.
“But they were willing and excited to work with me,” she said.
After a house in Home, Inc.’s Cemetery Street neighborhood became available, Richards said Chris Hall worked closely with her to determine her eligibility, and then, to purchase the house.
“He made everything so easy for me — he contacted all the people who needed to be contacted,” she said. “It was really reassuring to have [Hall] working with me during the purchase process, since I knew he was there to help me get a home I could afford instead of trying to make a profit.”
Richards purchased the house in 2021, and soon began to make the space home: She and her partner decorated her daughters’ room while the two were out of town visiting extended family.
“They came back and it’s all sparkly and their closets are colorful and they’ve got new furniture,” she said. “They love having their space.”
In a follow-up email with the News, Gillian and Gretchen Richards agreed that what they like best about their Cemetery Street home is that their yard allows them to have a “big trampoline” and they have a reasonable proximity to Corner Cone.
“We have friendly neighbors, and cats come to visit,” Gillian Richards said.
“The neighbors are nice,” Gretchen Richards agreed, “and there’s a lot of nature out back.”
Stephanie Richards said she values many of the same things her daughters do — watching the creek flow in the woods behind her house, spotting wildlife out the window.
“We can walk into town, or we can have pizza delivered to us — and after living on a farm, having pizza delivered to you is amazing,” she said.
But ultimately, Richards said, what buying a home through Home, Inc. has meant to her has been the ability to put down roots in a place she hopes she’ll call home for a long time yet.
“Yellow Springs is the first place I ever felt like, ‘This is my community,’” she said. “Being able to find a home here — it’s cementing that community for me.”
*The writer is a Home, Inc. homeowner and is married to a board member.