Calif. Neighborhood Gets Second Chance

Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco is acquiring bank-owned homes in the Bella Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park as part of its new Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP). At the sight of a modest, foreclosed home in Menlo Park, Habitat representatives announced the initiative’s pilot phase. Beginning tomorrow, the group will start rehabilitating five vacant bank-owned properties in the area, for occupancy by low-income families. Habitat said it hopes to expand the initiative to other areas hard-hit by the foreclosure crisis. Menlo Park, pounded by the housing crisis, sees foreclosure rates four to six times higher than that of its surrounding communities, says Habitat. And further complicating a recovery, the county in which Menlo resides, isn’t eligible for federal stabilization funds. Menlo Park often carries a “pricey reputation,” according to local news outlet, San Francisco Chronicle. But some of it’s neighborhoods, including Belle Haven, are worlds away from its million-dollar homes, according to Ash Vasudeva, president of Belle Haven Neighborhood Association. “Bella Haven home prices rose to $600,000 during the real estate boom, but are now in the $200,000 to $400,000 range,” he told the Chronicle. Foreclosures leaped as a result. “I have seen first-hand the impact of foreclosures on Menlo Park and know that we must take immediate action to address the problem,” said Heyward Robinson, Mayor of the city. The public/private initiative draws support from many sectors of the community and aims to help revitalize neighborhoods destabilized by the crisis — in this case Menlo Park — and provide new affordable homeownership opportunities for locals. Habitat has initially committed $500,000 to launch the program and teamed up with the city of Menlo Park, which is investing an additional $500,000. Families selected for the new program will help with the reconstruction and refurbishment of the homes as part of the standard sweat equity requirement of the Habitat program. They will also have access to the same terms of Habitat’s homeownership program, including no down payment and a zero-interest mortgage, to purchase their homes. Habitat says homeowners will undergo “significant” homeownership education and training, just as all Habitat families do. The Mayor of Menlo says he hopes the combined efforts of both parties will prove successful, forming a blueprint for other communities attempting to cope with the foreclosure crisis. Of recent, its seems innovative efforts to help struggling California communities are emerging. In early May, the Northern California Urban Development (NCUD), a non-profit provider of real estate financing tools, crafted a deal with several Bay Area municipalities to help reduce mortgage defaults. The foreclosure prevention program refinances existing loans and replaces a portion of the current mortgage debt with an equity investment. Menlo Park, itself, is said to have expressed interest in the program. Write to Kelly Curran.

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