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Bank-foreclosed homes going to charities

Las Vegas may lead the nation in foreclosures, but the silver lining to this debacle is that Southern Nevada charities are acquiring some of these homes through bank donations or at discounted prices, which in turn provides opportunities for low-income families to pursue their dream of homeownership.

Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada, the local affiliate of the national nonprofit working to improve the homes and lives of low-income individuals and families, has received three bank-foreclosed homes to date — two from Chase and one from Wells Fargo. The charity is currently in the process of trying to obtain a fourth home from Chase at a discounted price.

The JP Morgan Chase Foundation also awarded Rebuilding Together $20,000 to repair and renovate homes for low-income homeowners and first-time homebuyers, as part of HUD’s Neighborhood Stabilization Affordable Homeownership Program.

The charity received its first home in December 2010 from Chase, and, with the help of volunteers and local licensed contractors, was able to complete renovation in February 2011 and sell the property at a profit. Chase provided a second home in 2011, which the charity, along with bank volunteers and contractors, did a minor cleanup that included painting the exterior of the home. This residence also was sold for a profit. Wells Fargo recently donated a third home, which the charity is in the process of renovating.

“It’s nice to use volunteers to fix up a house that’s dilapidated and sell it to a low-income family,” said Therese Elliott, director of program development and marketing for Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada. “This is a fabulous program. It seems like people always talk about the bad stuff with banks, but the banks should be commended for how they enhance our communities through these programs.”

In addition to eradicating eyesores in neighborhoods and providing affordable housing to low-income families, local contractors struggling in this economy are able to find work by participating in these renovation projects.

Bob Nelson, president of Koldair Heating and Air Conditioning, said working with charities keeps his employees employed year round.

“It’s (working with charities) about 5 to 10 percent of our business,” said Nelson, who maintains a staff of 10 employees. “This has helped us through the bad economy. I’ve been doing this for the last 10 years.”

Nelson points out that in some renovations air conditioners need to be installed and the charities purchase the units from his company, which adds to the company’s yearly sales quota.

Sergio Carrera of Three Star Carpet worked on a renovation with Neighborhood Housing Services of Southern Nevada, and he got several referrals as a result.

“I’ve been advertising for two years and only got one or two jobs,” Carrera said. “I got more from referrals doing this job (with the charity).”

Carrera installed 540 square feet of carpet in a North Las Vegas home Wells Fargo donated to Neighborhood Housing Services. The vandalized house had all its copper piping stolen, including much of the aluminum siding. Wells Fargo also donated $85,000 to the charity for neighborhood stabilization.

“Community involvement is at the heart of Wells Fargo’s vision and values, and we are devoted to it,” Kirk Clausen, regional president of Wells Fargo Nevada, said in a written statement. “Nevada has been especially hard hit in this housing crisis. We couldn’t be more pleased to work with Neighborhood Housing Services of Southern Nevada to help affordable housing efforts in the Las Vegas area. In fact, our team members regularly volunteer their time and talents to help fix up properties, making them clean, safe places for people to live.”

Wells Fargo volunteers, as well as community volunteers and local contractors, turned the vandalized North Las Vegas residence into an inspirational model for the rest of the community. An estimated $30,000 in renovations were done to the property with another $10,000 of in-kind donations that included donated materials, according to Leonard Chide, president and executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Southern Nevada.

The renovations included new exterior stucco, replacing the electrical panel, installing seven new windows, a new air conditioner, reshingling the roof, installing new kitchen cabinets, new kitchen appliances and complete relandscaping.

“We now have a home with no mortgage, and I can keep the rent low and put money into other programs,” Chide said. “It’s a win-win for everyone. The banks are able to give back to communities, and we can go back and resell the homes. Our goal is to take people from homelessness and put them eventually into affordable rentals and eventually to move them into a home they can afford.”

Which is what Chide and his charity were able to accomplish when they moved Ardes Johnson and his 7-year-old daughter, Sierra, into the Well Fargo home in January. Volunteers from the community, contractors, the charity and bank officials in February turned out for a house warming to officially welcome the Johnsons into the community.

“This is great. I wanted to put my daughter into a house to give her the freedom to have her own backyard,” Ardes Johnson said, beaming with pride while watching his excited daughter dart between the household of guests. “We are renting it now, but our next step will be to get some assistance for a down payment on our own home.”

Jim O’Donnell, senior vice president and Real Estate Owned Revitalization Program manager with Chase, said the bank has donated 19 homes to charities statewide in Nevada since 2009. Other homes were sold at discounted prices to charities, making a total of 52 completed transactions throughout the state.

O’Donnell said this equates to approximately $785,000 of donated home values and $960,000 in discounted savings to charities on purchased homes. He encourages all charities to reach out to Chase by either calling 866-803-9844 or going to its website at www.chase.com/REO. O’Donnell said Chase is looking for charities that have at least two years of experience in renovating homes.

“This (program) is a reflection of our commitment to the community,” O’Donnell said. “We can take advantage of allowing these nonprofits to rehab homes and to make a profit by giving them an opportunity to access homes before they go on the market.”

Chide said Neighborhood Housing Services of Southern Nevada is just trying to give back to the community.

“If people want to donate, we can continue to help change the rest of the community,” Chide said. “Last year we rehabbed 12 apartments.”

For more information, go to the organization’s website at www.nhssn.org or call 649-0998.

Elliott said Chase usually makes available a list of foreclosed properties every couple of weeks. Between 20 to 25 homes are on the list, with around three being offered for donation.

“As soon as I get the list, I’m out the door like fire doing a drive-by of the house,” Elliott said. “This is a fantastic program.”

Elliott points out that she is always looking for licensed contractors to add to her list of vendors for renovation of homes. In instances where volunteers aren’t qualified to do repairs — such as electrical, major pluming or air conditioning — the charity has money to hire professionals. She urges contractors to call Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada at 259-4900 and submit a vendor application, or go to the website at www.rtsnv.org.

Meg Delor, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas, said her charity was the recipient of a donated townhouse from Nevada State Bank in December 2009. Community volunteers, including employees from the bank, renovated the property and sold it, using the proceeds to build a new three-bedroom home in the Vegas Heights area of northwest Las Vegas. A young mother and her daughter moved into the residence this past December.

“Habitat for Humanity’s continuing efforts in the neighborhoods such as Vegas Heights will ensure that these communities will stabilize for everyone living there and add new working families into the community,” Delor said at the dedication ceremony Dec. 6. “With every new family that moves in with ambitions to create a better life, Vegas Heights becomes a safer, more vibrant community.”

In addition to the townhouse, valued at $90,000 in 2009 that was donated to Habitat for Humanity, Nevada State Bank also donated another property in Northern Nevada.

“In December 2009, Nevada State Bank donated two properties to worthy community organizations in Nevada,” Dallas Haun, president and CEO of Nevada State Bank, said in a written statement. “In Southern Nevada, we selected Habitat for Humanity because they would be able to use the house for refurbishment training and then sell the house so the proceeds could go to a new Habitat home. …”

Delor said Chase bank also donated a home and Fannie Mae donated a vacant lot to the charity. Information on Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas home ownership program is available on its website at www.habitatlasvegas.org or by calling 638-6477.

Working families must meet the minimum and maximum income requirements to qualify for a zero percent mortgage, Delor said. And they also must be willing to perform 300 hours of what she calls “sweat equity” working on their own home or another being built by Habitat for Humanity.

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