$955,000 grant to aid development

December 18, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

By KIM BARTO - Bulletin Staff Writer

Nearly one million dollars in Harvest Foundation grant funds awarded to the Virginia Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) will be used to aid revitalization efforts in Martinsville and Henry County. The $955,548 grant, which will span three years, will be used to form a local Community Development Corp. (CDC) and create a community development plan, according to a release from Harvest.

Ford Weber, executive director of Virginia LISC, said the “primary short-term objective is to really revitalize uptown Martinsville,” but the local corporation also will “have the flexibility to focus on other needs” as they arise and expand into the county. First, the corporation will focus on uptown by either renovating under-utilized properties or developing new ones. The ultimate goal is to support the creation of housing, entrepreneurial and employment opportunities that will encourage more investment in uptown, the release said. “We are very honored and excited” to participate in these efforts, Weber said.

Jeffrey Mansour, Harvest Foundation senior program officer, said Virginia LISC will work in concert with local groups such as MURA, the Economic Development Corp., city and county governments, churches and nonprofits. “They bring expertise and help create a home-grown entity,” Mansour said, with the idea being to complement and aid existing plans for uptown.

Weber said LISC’s role is to “connect community development resources with groups that need those resources.” The company partners with community groups, provides technical assistance and helps them get funding for development projects, such as creating affordable housing. “We’re a very collaborative organization,” Weber said. “We put a lot of emphasis on community engagement, so that the residents, stakeholders, business leaders and elected officials have a say in how that neighborhood grows and develops.”

The local corporation will likely be up and running within the first year, Weber said. Year one will focus on forming the organization, putting a board together, assessing opportunities, strengths and weaknesses and assembling a small full-time staff. Then, they will begin to implement projects. Mansour called the program “a tremendous opportunity for our community to benefit from LISC’s decades of experience helping cities small and large across the country.”

Nationally, LISC is the largest financial intermediary doing community development work across the country, Weber said. In Virginia, the company has helped create more than $300 million of real estate development in distressed areas since it began in Richmond in 1990. “We do a lot of housing development,” as well as child care centers and community spaces, Weber said. “Every community has different needs,” he added.

Virginia LISC has major initiatives under way in Richmond and Petersburg. Past projects have resulted in the creation of more than 2,500 affordable homes and apartments and more than 150,000 square feet of commercial space and community facilities, according to the Web site.

Efforts in Petersburg started in 2006 to revitalize four central city neighborhoods around downtown, with aid from the Cameron Foundation. The organization obtained below-market mortgages from the Virginia Housing Development Authority, enabling qualified first-time homebuyers to get low-interest mortgages on homes in those four neighborhoods.

 Virginia LISC brought Petersburg residents together to create the community improvement plan through public meetings and input from more than 1,000 residents. The organization also provided a local housing market analysis, made a grant to a community group and loaned money to a library foundation to enable planning for new library, the Web site said.


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