Affordable-housing merger

Charlotte groups that work to find housing for working poor teaming up.

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. [05.03.04] — Two groups that work to help the working poor find housing are merging.

Scheduled to take effect in July, the merger of Community Link and Ujamma “provides us with the opportunity in-house to offer a complete continuum of services to our customers,” says Floyd Davis, president and CEO of Community Link.

Formed in 1929, Community Link serves more than 3,000 men, women and children a year who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.

Of those who complete the group’s education and counseling program that helps them find rental housing, nearly three in four have rental housing and a job one year later.

Ujamma, formed in 1995, has provided education and counseling to nearly 2,000 people who already were living in stable housing for at least two years, and has helped nearly 900 of them become homeowners, says Jackie Walton, executive director.

“People in our program have a little bit more money and stability,” says Walton, who will manage the Ujamma program for Community Link after the merger.

While services the two agencies now offer are designed for different groups of clients with needs distinct from one another, both agencies generally aim to equip clients with financial know-how, and help them save money and cope with personal or family problems.

The merger will result in a broad range of education and training designed to move people from homelessness to homeownership, says Davis, who will continue to serve as president and CEO.

“We can take them where we find them and deliver them some day to homeownership,” says Davis, a former president of United Way of Forsyth County.

The merger, expected to save $60,000 a year from the two agencies’ combined budgets after one-time merger costs, also will strengthen client services, says Charles Page, senior vice president at United Way of Central Carolinas, who helped facilitate merger talks between the two agencies’ boards.

Community Link, a United Way agency with 23 employees and an annual budget of nearly $2 million, helps clients find housing, negotiate with landlords, understand tenant rights and responsibilities, develop life plans and budgets, save money, and address financial and personal problems.

“Our case workers will stay with them until the caseworker and the customer agree our services are no longer needed,” Davis says.

With an annual budget just over $300,000 and six employees, Ujamma helps clients understand homeownership, predatory lending, home maintenance, homeowner associations, and selection of realtors and mortgage lenders, as well as other credit, savings and employment issues related to buying and owning a home.

On July 1, thanks to a state grant, Community Link also will expand from Mecklenburg to five more counties its efforts to work on family and housing issues with families in which parents and children are being reunited after removal of the children in the face of domestic problems.

Davis also plans to begin working on affordable housing issues with Habitat for Humanity and with local community development corporations.

“You just can’t put people in housing,” he says, “without dealing with the issues that put their housing at risk.”

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