Monday, December 19, 2016

Personal Finance Tips: All About Insurance!

With the day-to-day struggles of paying bills and setting money aside for savings, it’s easy to overlook the importance of insurance. Everyday concerns also make it difficult to recognize that the insurance you took out in the past may not be the right type for today or the future.

Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven has developed five tips to help you choose and manage your insurance needs, whether you’re a renter or homeowner:

1. Don’t let a homeowners policy “gather dust.” 
Most people obtain homeowners insurance when they buy their home, then put the policy into a drawer and forget about it. However, it’s best to review your policy every year and see if it needs to be upgraded. For example, if you’re doing a major remodeling project, such as finishing a basement, updating a kitchen or renovating a bathroom, the value of your home and property will change and thus your policy needs to be re-examined.

Choose a homeowners policy that covers 100% of the replacement cost, not only market value. Unfortunately, in some areas, older homes have a market value that is substantially below the replacement cost. Don’t be caught with an inadequate policy.

Building contractors or professional replacement-cost appraisers are a good source for obtaining an estimate for your home. Estimates from these sources should reflect your home's new features, like those mentioned above. NHS of New Haven can put you in contact with qualified professionals.

2. Buy and update renters insurance. 
Renters insurance protects the valuables inside your home whether you're living in an apartment or renting a house. If an incident such as a fire or flooding, a landlord's insurance will cover the building itself but not your own property. As with homeowners insurance, you should review the policy regularly to assure it reflects your current address and property. For example, if you do not alert your insurance company when you purchase an expensive item such as a tablet computer or piece of art, you might not be reimbursed if it is stolen later.

3. Manage your credit for the lowest insurance premium. 
 Just about everyone has heard about credit scores. However, many people aren’t aware that insurance companies calculate a person’s insurance score, and use that number to determine how much your annual homeowners insurance will cost.

Like a credit score, an insurance score takes into account your outstanding debt, the length of your credit history, whether you pay your bills on a timely basis, your number of credit accounts and any new applications for credit. The best insurance scores are assigned to individuals with long, established credit histories, a track record of on-time bill payments, low debt and few new credit accounts. NHS of New Haven offers post-purchase housing counseling and financial capability programs that help you manage and improve your credit score.

4. Look for ways to lower auto insurance costs. 
There are more than 250 million registered automobiles and light trucks in the United States, and the average vehicle age is more than 10 years. If you’re one of the millions of drivers with a car, there are ways to lower your insurance cost.

Most auto insurance companies offer reduced rates to drivers with clean records. If you haven’t had an accident in the last few years, check with your insurer and others and determine if your rate could be lowered.

Parents of children who drive know that adding their kids to the policy could push up the annual premium. But if your child successfully completed some driver-education courses, or earns good grades in school, alerting your insurance company could lower your auto insurance costs.

5. Purchase life insurance. 
Life insurance is a tough investment for many people, but if your income is essential to your family’s day-to-day life, then planning for the ultimate unexpected occurrence could be the right thing to do. Life insurance products are incredibly complicated, and according to an industry trade group, more than 100 million people in the United States are without life insurance protection.

Working with a financial coach at NHS of New Haven can help you set a budget that will help you manage all of your insurance needs.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Looking for That Perfect Last Minute Gift?

Check Everyone Off Your List This 
Holiday Season! 

Our Winter Garden Workshops* are the perfect gift for the gardener (or wannabe gardener) in your life! 

Advanced Master Gardener, Rachel Ziesk, will teach classes that will help attendees prepare their garden for the upcoming spring season.

Each individual workshop costs just $20. OR pick up the entire series for $100! 

Soil & Season Extenders -- Saturday, January 28th, 2017
The most important component for a successful garden is soil health. Learn how to make and keep your soil healthy, as well as how to use row covers and other techniques to extend your growing season.

Cool Weather Crops -- Saturday, February 11th, 2017
Learn about starting your garden as soon as the snow is gone! Cool weather crops don’t mind the cold and give you a head start on the season. This class covers how to plant cold weather crops and manage the pests and diseases that plague them.

Warm Weather Crops -- Saturday, February 25th, 2017
Everything you need to know about warm weather crops! Learn about how to make the best out of your growing season including which crops are best started indoors, what can be directly seeded into the ground and what conditions each crop prefers. This class also covers which fertilizers are best as well as common pests and diseases affecting warm weather crops.

Seed Starting & Garden Planning -- Saturday, March 4th, 2017
Start your own seedlings! This class explores how and when to start planting indoors. Learn about using lights, watering and identifying common problems with seed starting. The class also covers planning your garden so you get the most out of your gardening space. Everyone attending will get to plant a six pack of seedlings to take home with them.

Essential Flowers & Herbs for Vegetable Gardening -- Saturday, March 11th, 2017
Flowers and Herbs attract pollinators and beneficial insects to help keep your garden productive and healthy. Learn about the best flowers and herbs for your garden. This class will also identify some edible weeds and tell you what you need to know in order to protect your garden from invasive ones.

Preserving your Garden Harvest -- Saturday, March 25th, 2017
Learn how you can eat from your garden all winter long. Simple methods can save your harvest for winter use. The class will cover techniques that you’ll need to know for freezing, canning, dehydrating, pickling and more.

For more information on each class, or to register for the series, visit:

*This Program is a cooperative effort of NHS of New Haven, Common Ground, UConn Extension, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, and the Risk Management Agency/USDA. These institutions are equal opportunity employers and providers.

Friday, December 16, 2016

NeighborWorks America Post: Helping Consumers Avoid Pitfalls of Payday Loans

Nonprofits Can Help Consumers Avoid Pitfalls of Payday Loans 

Originally posted on NeighborWorks' site. 
Written by Marietta Rodriguez, Vice President of National Homeownership Programs | 5/16/2016 

Payday loans are bad deals for consumers. That's why NeighborWorks is excited to see that Google announced it would no longer accept ads from payday lenders. These ads attracted financially troubled consumers and trapped them in unexpectedly long-term bad deals for short-term money.

Traditional lenders don't often offer short-term, low-balance loans people may need to cover a financial emergency in a pinch. There are lots of people who have little or no emergency savings to pay for a car that suddenly breaks down, or to replace an appliance that quits the proverbial "one day after the warranty expires." But payday loans are actually anchors that can drag consumers into a sea of debt - not stabilize their financial boat.

NeighborWorks consumer financial surveyA 2016 survey from NeighborWorks America found that more than 28 percent of adults have no emergency savings to cover these sudden costs. The Consumer Federation of America and Pew Charitable Trusts released similar results. That's one reason that payday and title loans are used so frequently. These loans often seem affordable, but when looked at closely, their costs are outrageous.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a $15 fee for a $100 payday loan carries an annual interest rate of nearly 400 percent. And most payday loans are not for $100 but rather for $300 or more. When they are due in two weeks or less, in full, recipients must continue to borrow to pay other loans. What's more, borrowers incur overdraft and bounced-check fees when lenders run their post-dated checks through the system.

In April, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray said the agency continues to prepare regulations for the payday lending market. These regulations are likely to incorporate an ability-to-repay principle.

The convenience of these products masks their costs, and consumers who are cash-strapped could easily see these loans as the best solution to the question: How do I get money right now? However, there is a better solution than these high-cost products, and it starts with better information and better planning. That's where financial capability coaching and counseling come in.

Managing finances orange graphic with calculator, envelope and notebookFinancial capability counseling — often provided free or at very low cost — is an approach that combines financial education, counseling and coaching. Tax season is a great time to start this kind of program and implement strategies that maximize monthly cash flow, set a savings plan and minimize the risk of needing one of these high-cost loans.

The trouble is, not enough people are aware of the availability of financial capability services, especially from nonprofit organizations like those affiliated with NeighborWorks.

In a 2015 NeighborWorks America survey, three-quarters of adults said they were unaware of free or low-cost services like financial coaching in their communities. We have to make more people aware of these services because financial capability coaching and counseling works. A project spearheaded by NeighborWorks America found that more than half of clients who didn't have savings before working with a coach or counselor had set aside a median amount of $668 after coaching. That amount goes a long way toward establishing an emergency fund. Importantly, the interaction also had a positive effect on people who already were savers. The median increase in savings for these clients was more than $900. In short, working with a financial coach or counselor helps people prepare for unexpected financial emergencies, enabling them to better avoid high-cost lending products such as payday and title loans, or the need to get their tax refund now instead of waiting a few days.

The centerpiece of financial capability counseling is looking ahead. A great first step in setting personal financial goals — whether they be allocating money for emergencies, developing a strategy to start a business or saving for college education — is to retain a financial capability counselor. It's easier to avoid payday and other high-cost lending traps if you're looking ahead.

Monday, December 12, 2016


For Immediate Release
December 9, 2016
Maria Perez-Martinez, 475-227-0530,


NEW HAVEN, CT – Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven
announced today that Eversource has contributed $500,000 under the State House Tax Credit Contribution (HTCC) Program administered by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority. The funding will support NHS’ Comprehensive Neighborhood Stabilization and Revitalization Initiative and the HomeOwnership Center’s Homebuyer Promotion and Preservation Program. In 2017, these programs are poised to rehabilitate 12 houses, totaling at least 20 units for affordable homeownership in addition to providing homebuyer education, financial literacy training, and foreclosure prevention counseling. 

 “This contribution from Eversource will play a significant role in helping us to strengthen our comprehensive neighborhood revitalization strategy,” said Bridgette Russell, Managing Director of NHS’ HomeOwnership Center. “Eversource’s dedication to affordable housing organizations helps to strengthen communities and create economic growth in New Haven.”

Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven and its subsidiary the New Haven HomeOwnership Center, work to revitalize selected neighborhoods in New Haven by increasing homeownership; making homes beautiful, energy-efficient, and affordable; and helping residents take charge of their neighborhoods. We believe that increased homeownership, educated homebuyers, and rehabilitated houses will produce stable, revitalized neighborhoods that our clients will be proud to call home. During the course of our 37-year history, NHS has fully renovated and sold more than 270 houses to low- and moderate-income families ( NHS of New Haven is a chartered member of the NeighborWorks America network ( 

Eversource transmits and delivers electricity and natural gas for more than 3.6 million electric and natural gas customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Eversource harnesses the commitment of its approximately 8,000 employees across three states to build a single, united company around the mission of delivering reliable energy and superior customer service. For more information, visit their website (, follow them on Twitter (@EversourceCorp), and Facebook (


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Cleaning up with Squash Haven!

Nine Squash Haven students, one Squash Haven staff member, and two NHS staff members braved the chilly temperature to clean up around the Ivy Street Community Garden in Newhallville on Sunday, November 20. All together, they raked and collected 48 bags of leaves and other yard waste – a record for an NHS supported event!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


HAMP is ENDING SOON!  Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) is the government program designed to reduce your mortgage payments, making them affordable and sustainable over the long term.  If you are in danger of falling behind or delinquent and have obtained your mortgage on or before January 1, 2009 you may be eligible.  HAMP applications are due December 31, 2016!  Speak one-on-one with a HUD-approved housing expert to discuss solutions that are available based on your individual circumstances.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Don't Let Holiday Shopping Put You in the Red


     When the holidays roll around, many people think this time of year gives them free rein to overindulge -- not only with food, but also with shopping and gift-giving. A new survey from 
The National Retail Federation estimates that U.S. adults will spend more on holiday shopping this year. If you doen’t plan ahead and create a holiday budget, a tightening pocketbook may be a reality. Setting up a financial plan with staff at Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven – and at many NeighborWorks organizations around the country -- and following other tips to control holiday spending can reduce stress and anxiety.

     According to a report, 1 million U.S. consumers are already ‘holiday-stress-free” as they have checked everyone off their list and completed their shopping. While not done, another 34 million shoppers are chipping away at their lists and spending wisely by shopping for bargains and sales.

     An NHS Housing Specialist can help you look at last year’s spending and where you overspent. Many financial planners recommend spending no more than 1.5% of your annual income on holiday expenses. Working with NHS can help you set and reach your financial goals, such as saving for retirement or paying off debt – not just during the holidays, but throughout the year.

     Use debit instead of credit if you can. When choosing debit, it’s important to keep an eye on your balances. Many checking accounts allow a customer to spend more than is in the account, and charge an overdraft fee for the privilege. Also, when using debit for purchases, some banks charge a fee for the transaction that is similar to an ATM charge. These fees can be as much as $3.00 per transaction, even for small-dollar debit purchases.

     If you don’t pay in full, if choosing to use a credit card, be aware of how your bank charges interest, and where you are on your credit limit. If you exceed your credit limit, a card issuer may allow the transaction to go through, but increase your interest rate on all unpaid balances. If you’re thinking about debit spending or of carrying a balance on your credit card to cover gifts, make sure you’ve checked the fine print – going overboard on holiday gifts could cost you more than you realize in the long run. Consider layaway plans instead of credit. For expensive purchases, layaway fees are typically less than the interest on your credit purchases.

Avoid a holiday spending hangover this year and every year by setting up one-on-one time with a housing specialist at NHS of New Haven. Working with trained staff at NeighborWorks organizations can mean the difference between falling into a “financial trap” or working smartly and reaching one’s financial goals.

Happy Shopping!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Home In A Day - Sponsored by Liberty Bank

Home in a Day -- Sponsored by Liberty Bank
Partners: HDF and NHS of New Haven

Saturday, October 8th, 2016
10AM - 12:30PM
Gateway Community College, New Haven

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Event Highlight: International Day of Peace

International Day of Peace
Sunday, September 18, 2016
1:00PM - 6:00PM
United Nations Peace Garden in West River

For more information, contact Stacy Spell: (203) 777-2192 or

Event Highlight: A "One Community" Forum

6:00PM - 8:00PM

A "One Community" Forum
"Building Bridges -- Not Walls"

Featuring spoken artists, religious & political leaders.

Hosted by The West River Neighborhood Services Corporation, in collaboration with The Malik Human Services Institute and The Way of the Cross Bibleway Church.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Five Ways Gardening Feeds the Soul

This blogpost was first published on NeighborWorks' site:

Five ways gardening feeds the soul

Pam Bailey, NeighborWorks blogger | 8/18/2016 11:40:23 PM

Communal gardens have become a fixture of neighborhood revitalization and community-building programs. Whether it be individual plots in one garden or one big lot that residents cultivate together, there is a growing escalation of a phenomenon with deep roots in American history, culture—and psyche.

Statistics are hard to come by, but a report by the National Gardening Association found that the number of households participating in a community garden grew by 2 million between 2008 and 2013. Leading the swell are millennials, particularly in our nation’s urban areas.  Stats like that, along with news of hipsters flooding to bankrupt Detroit to start urban farms, can make it seem like community gardens are a recent fad driven by the foodie/locavore movements. However, not only does community gardening and urban farming pre-date the coining of the word “hipster,” but they also have so much more meaning and impact than community building and local food production—although those are significant benefits.
The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul. – English poet Alfred Austin
“When talking to ‘red zone’ [crisis or disaster] survivors—whether they be war refugees beginning a new life in Dearborn, Michigan; residents of New Orleans’ 9thWard after Hurricane Katrina; or homeowners struggling to hang on in a largely vacated Detroit—we often hear stories about how the act of planting has been critical to emotional survival and to engendering hope for the future,” writes Keith Tidball and Marianne Krasny in “Greening in the Red Zone: Disaster, Resilience and Community Greening."

In fact, argue the two researchers, this attraction to nature and particularly to the act of planting is biologically hardwired. “Biophilia” is the term coined to describe the “innate human predisposition to affiliate with, or to seek out, nature. “Urgent biophilia” kicks in once war, hurricane or other crisis induces a feeling of intense threat or loss. Gardening or otherwise actively communing with nature renews the emotional affiliation with other living organisms, paving the way for both individuals and communities to recover and regenerate, say Tidball and Kasny.

Here are a few of the many ways that catering to biophilia through community gardening can benefit both residents and their neighborhoods, as explored in a recent webinar sponsored by NeighborWorks America’s green program (plus one I added):

Emigration and intercultural connection

One of the most stressful experiences an individual or family can experience is becoming a refugee or other type of migrant. Displaced from the familiarity of their homeland, often as the result of traumatic forces such as war or persecution, they have multiple needs that community gardening can help fulfill.

“Most refugees have experienced a profound loss of control over their lives,” comments Katie Painter, program coordinator for Global Gardens, which works in Boise, Idaho, to help them cultivate the food they remember from their homelands, engage with the broader community and support themselves by becoming entrepreneurs. “Many also come from agrarian environments. It’s comforting to do something familiar, and it also draws them out of the perceived safety of their homes to mix with others. Gardening is an act that creates a feeling of empowerment and transcends languages.”

Global Gardens currently runs nine community gardens hosted by nonprofit partners, including NeighborWorks Boise, on land they own.

Youth engagement

Gardening is often an interest that must be deliberately cultivated among youth in urban, high-crime neighborhoods. But once they are both given the opportunity and shown the appeal, it can be transformative.

One example is a unique program in the hard-scrabble eastern side of Cleveland, Ohio, that uses hip hop to attract youth to neighborhood engagement—and has found gardening to be ideal companion activity.

The program is called Fresh Camp, explains Dee Jay Doc Harrill, a hip hop artist himself. The camp name comes from the hip hop meaning for the word “fresh”: unique, original, cool.

“Hip hop is a favorite music genre among teens, especially in the inner city,” he explains. “We use something that already attracts them to draw them into other activities in their neighborhood they don’t know they’d like.”

About five years ago, Herill recalls, the group took a walk through their neighborhood looking for what was “fresh” around them. And one thing they noticed was the growing number of community gardens in the midst of what had been a food desert, often in previously littered, vacant lots. So, Doc reached out to the volunteers who run Ashbury Sprouts, supported by NeighborWorks member Famicos Foundation. They were given nine beds to garden, and at least one of the youth chose it as his favorite activity that summer.

“They would not have signed up for gardening camp,” Herill notes. “But then they discovered how awesome a really fresh tomato tastes, and that they can fulfill some of their needs on their own, without relying on a system in which they have no faith. That they can produce their own food without depending on anyone else.”

Food justice/healthy living

A 2010 study by the Denver Urban Gardens found that more than half of community gardeners satisfy the national guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption, compared to a quarter of non-gardeners. In addition, 95 percent of community gardeners give others some of the produce they grow to friends, family or people in need (60 percent specifically to food-assistance programs).

One focus of the Greening of Detroit is to help residents develop a healthy relationship with food through self-sufficient production and greater awareness of nutrition. Seasonal produce is grown in four hoop-house tunnels year-round. In 2015, 15,046 pounds of produce was harvested and of that, 7,315 pounds were donated to community organizations. In addition, classes on everything from “Grilling Your Vegetables,” to “Wild Edibles,” to “Preserve, Pickle and Freeze” are offered.

However, the health benefits of community gardening may extend beyond the food itself. In their provocative “Greening in the Red Zone” book, the authors share the results of large, longitudinal studies of people aged 60 and older that have demonstrated a significant association between gardening and reduced risk of dementia.

Resilience in the face of crisis

Tidball and Krasny dcument studies showing that community gardens lead to more neighbor-to-neighbor assistance in times of general need. Likewise, survey research shows that in low-income neighborhoods, community gardens are associated with an increase in organizing around other neighborhood issues, such as crime prevention.

“We believe that creating an extensive network of community gardens prior to disasters would bolster the capacity for resilience before it is acutely needed,” they conclude.

Community building

“Grow a garden, grow a community” is the motto for Feedom Freedom, a group of independent growers in Detroit. (And no, that’s not a typo! When the logo for the group was designed, a vine displaced the “r” by mistake – and the quirky name became permanent.)

Myrtle Thompson-Curtis, who visited the August community building and engagement meeting for NeighborWorks America, explains how the group got started:

“Before we were married, my husband and I both moved into the lower east side of Detroit [from other neighborhoods]. We talked about how to integrate into the community, get to know who else was there, do something to be good neighbors. There were a lot of vacant lots, and Wayne [her future husband] had both a long history of activism and a lot of friends doing gardening work. It seemed right.”

Today, they have six lots and five paid staff members, made possible in part by participation in a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to offer children’s programming. They have a regular flow of volunteers, and have—as hoped—gotten to know everyone in the area, right down to all the inquisitive children and the “lady who sweeps the streets every morning, on her own initiative.”

“We have expanded from urban food production to education about art, foreclosure prevention and the water crisis in the area. When someone has a personal crisis, we’re a resource as well,” she smiles. “This has become a safe space, a transformative space.”  

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