Notice anything different? This month, we updated our website with a new logo and a new look that we’ve been working on for some time now — we’re excited to share it with you at long last!
In developing our new look, we thought hard about what we wanted to convey. This was not just a cosmetic process: we wanted to make sure that our vision, mission, and values were reflected in the way we interact with everyone we work with.
The Center is a young organization (founded in 2007). We’re an eager, highly motivated staff and we’re continually creating new programs that meet the needs of the middle- and working-class homeowners we serve. To create our new vision, mission, and values, we took a step back to ask ourselves: “How do we talk about our organization and, in the process, get better outcomes?”
We crafted a vision statement that describes the impact that we want to make as an organization and a mission statement that describes how we plan on achieving our vision. Take a look:
We envision a New York where middle- and working-class families live in affordable homes and vibrant communities, and where everyone shares in the economic opportunities of a strong city and state.
Our mission is to promote and protect affordable homeownership in New York so that middle– and working-class families are able to build strong, thriving communities.
Taking a step further brings me to our values: these are the guiding principles for all of our work. Although we developed these largely for internal use, we wanted to explain them because they are central to our culture, beliefs, and actions. In creating our values statements, we decided to look deeply at the way we communicate — because it is absolutely critical to meeting our biggest goals. The most obvious example of this is in connection with our work to put an end to foreclosure rescue scams. In focus groups we conducted across the city with homeowners who had been scammed, we were dismayed to learn that many of them had found out too late about the free, high-quality homeownership services our network offers. In a sea of scammers and predators spending millions on advertising, it’s hard to get your message heard.
Accordingly, we have put immense efforts into reaching homeowners at risk of losing their homes as early as possible. Working with the Office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, we developed AGScamHelp and embarked on a major, statewide outreach campaign to reach homeowners first at every turn — with thousands of postcards mailed each month to homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments; ads on the radio, on Facebook, on buses; and much more.
We knew, though, that we also have to do more to make sure that when homeowners reached us, they knew from their very first interaction with the Center and our partner organizations that we were there for them, that they could trust us, and that we offered the best services out there. That brings me to two of our new values statements that capture these intentions:
Trust is a must.
New Yorkers need high-quality help they can trust, and we take this responsibility seriously.
We’re in this together.
We understand that homeownership is a journey; we’re here to help at every step along the way.
We also spent time thinking about who it is that we’re working for, namely, middle- and working-class families in New York. We’re talking about the teacher and small business owner trying to save enough so that their kids can go to college, the senior whose spouse passed away and is living on Social Security that’s barely enough to get by, and the recent immigrant entrepreneur that is this close to making it with a new business, but had to pay a costly medical bill she didn’t see coming. These are the New Yorkers we serve, and it’s what brings me to another of our values:
Affordable homeownership is about equality.
The opportunity to own a home shouldn’t be out of reach for middle- and working-class New Yorkers.
There are those who will say that homeownership is simply not feasible for middle- and working-class families in New York City. We disagree — and we believe deeply that affordable homeownership is one of the greatest policy approaches out there as we confront the increasing divide of income inequality nationally, and an ever-hotter real estate market locally. The opportunity that homeownership can create is extraordinary, and we’ve already built much of the infrastructure to make it possible. At the end of the day, it’s simple: helping families build equity in their homes makes our country more equitable.
We also put significant thought into the places we work, namely middle- and working-class neighborhoods throughout New York City where many people own the homes they live in. We believe that strong homeowners help form strong, thriving communities, and this is reflected in our next values statement:
Neighborhoods are the heart of New York.
When middle- and working-class families set down roots, they help create vibrant communities.
As we work to promote and protect affordable homeownership throughout New York’s neighborhoods, we must confront the legacy of the foreclosure crisis in New York as well as the challenges to keeping homeownership within reach, given today’s hotter-than-ever real estate market.
Today, the homeowners we serve and the communities where we work continue to reel from the impacts of the foreclosure crisis and the recession it caused. These impacts are not felt equally: even when accounting for income, African American and Latino homeowners were disproportionately targeted for subprime and other forms of loans that proved more likely to lead to foreclosure. As a result of the Great Recession, half of the collective wealth of African-American families was lost, both due to the dominant role of home equity in their total net worth and the prevalence of predatory high-risk loans in communities of color. Likewise, the Latino community lost an astounding 67 percent of its total wealth during the housing collapse.
Moving forward to the present, we are finding that middle- and working-class families are struggling to afford to buy homes in the communities where the Center works. Today, only those with near-perfect credit are able to qualify for a loan, while many others are perfectly creditworthy, but do not qualify. This is compounded by an accelerating trend of all-cash purchases by investors, making it even harder for prospective homeowners to compete.
As a result of the foreclosure crisis and today’s credit picture, the national homeownership rate is down to 64.5 percent as of last year, which erases nearly all of the gains in homeownership over the past two decades.
The decrease in homeownership also impacts renters, as would-be homebuyers contribute to exceptionally strong demand for rental units. Despite a major building boom in an attempt to meet the demand for new rentals, the national vacancy rate is at its lowest point in nearly 20 years, and rents are rising at twice the rate of inflation.
These challenges are vast, but not insurmountable. Overcoming them will take the concentrated effort of many different individuals and public and private institutions. At the Center, we work to coordinate efforts and boost our collective strength and impact — and that brings me to our final values statement:
Working collaboratively is working strategically.
Partnerships among homeowners, government agencies, community-based organizations, and the private sector create powerful levers for effecting change.
Finally, a word about our new logo and tagline. It comes down to this: by helping individual families, we also help those families build strong, thriving communities. This notion is the ‘big idea’ behind our new logo: helping one homeowner (with a beautiful bright orange house) helps all the other homeowners in the neighborhood (with lovely teal houses). We work home-by-home, but we’re doing so at scale in order to help entire communities thrive, which explains our new tagline, too:
Strong Homeowners. Strong Communities.
Keeping homeownership within the reach of middle- and working-class New Yorkers is essential if we are to continue to share the prosperity that comes from a successful city and state — so that New Yorkers at all income levels have a better chance at a strong, stable financial future.
We hope you like the new look! We’re looking forward to working with the many partners who have already joined us — who are already champions of affordable homeownership — as well as making new friendships and connections with those who are just learning about us.
Together, we must keep homeownership affordable in New York. We cannot afford not to.