The community of Rutland, Vermont found itself facing challenging times. Residents were becoming increasingly concerned with rising poverty, vacancy, and crime rates, as well as the decline in general housing conditions. Recognizing that deteriorating neighborhood conditions were contributing to the community’s challenges, NeighborWorks of Western Vermont (NWWVT), a community-based nonprofit organization and a NeighborWorks America network member with a focus on housing and homeownership, sought to obtain funding to support much-needed neighborhood revitalization. In 2013, as part of a broad effort by NeighborWorks America to help its network members measure the impact of their work in the communities they serve, Success Measures provided evaluation technical assistance to NWWVT to support its efforts to better understand and gather information about the Northwest neighborhood in Rutland.
Approach and Results
From the onset, NWWVT involved its staff and neighborhood residents in the evaluation process, using the Success Measures data collection tools and evaluation approach. NWWVT focused on examining property conditions and residents’ perceptions of quality of life in a 15-square block area of the Northwest Rutland neighborhood. Success Measures also assisted NWWVT in analyzing the results and the organization communicated the key findings to staff, community stakeholders and residents of the neighborhood.
Contrary to residents’ assumptions, the property observations revealed that a sizable portion of the housing stock was actually in much better condition than previously perceived. NWWVT realized that it was the run-down appearance of front porches in the neighborhood which had an impact on residents’ perception of lack of safety, so the organization established a porch repair program for homes in stable condition. Additionally, the baseline survey showed that 85 percent of neighborhood residents were willing to volunteer their time to improve the community. With this newfound data in hand, NWWVT was able to provide, locally and statewide, a new narrative of Northwest Rutland that, although perceived from the outside as a troubled neighborhood, it was in fact stronger than its reputation and home to residents committed to the betterment of their community.
NWWVT subsequently secured competitive community development block grant (CDBG) funding – in the amount of $1.25 million dollars – from the Vermont Community Development Program to support housing rehab and revitalization in the neighborhood. This was the first time in its history that NWWVT was awarded CDBG funding for the purpose of revitalization. NWWVT’s efforts are combined with support from public officials who are engaged with neighborhood residents and their issues. In July 2014, Mayor Christopher Louras went door-to-door personally greeting each of the survey respondents who had expressed interest in participating in ongoing neighborhood improvement efforts and asked them how they’d like to volunteer their time. That same month, Governor Peter Shumlin also visited the neighborhood to announce the $1.25 million CDBG award.
In partnership with the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, NWWVT leveraged these CDBG funds to support the demolition and conversion to greenspace of properties beyond repair and the rehab of more structurally sound homes. The organization aims to increase homeownership rates in the neighborhood from the current 29 percent to 50 percent. As a component of the broader ongoing effort by NeighborWorks to support its network members to measure the outcomes of their efforts in the communities they serve, NWWVT will engage in a second round of data collection in 2016, which will allow the organization to track change resulting from its efforts over time.
About NW Western Vermont
NeighborWorks of Western Vermont aims to strengthen the development of a regional economy by promoting safe, efficient and stable housing, and community projects through education, technical assistance, and financial services. Originally Rutland West Neighborhood Housing Services, NeighborWorks of Western Vermont started in 1986 as a consortium of four towns: Rutland, West Rutland, Castleton and Fair Haven with the intent of stabilizing four deteriorating neighborhoods in those towns by providing low-interest loans for home repairs to homeowners. NeighborWorks of Western Vermont’s service area expanded over the years to eventually cover all of Rutland, Addison and Bennington counties.