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Stabilizing Housing Careers and Building Community.

Miller, Keith Sterling.

The mission of Urban Homeworks (UHW) is to perpetuate the hope of Jesus Christ through innovative community development that produces dignified housing for very‐low income families, a strategic network of good neighbors, and the redemptive development of real estate. Urban Homeworks focuses its work in neighborhood clusters that are 2 city blocks by 2 city blocks called PODs. UHW currently implements three housing programs including rental units for families with very low‐income, the Urban Neighbor program, and Project Reclaim a home ownership program for families with low‐moderate incomes.

Since its inception UHW has desired to provide support its residents through a strategic network of good neighbors. Families with very low incomes tend to have very erratic housing careers. Negative non‐housing related issues frequently cause families to move. This pattern is one of many circumstances that keep families living in generational poverty. UHW has always understood the value of social networks and social capital as important mechanisms for the survival and enrichment of families and communities. That is why UHW has desired to surround its residents with a strategic network of good neighbors. Historically, one component of that network has been UHW’s connections to social services. UHW has a number of partnerships with social service institutions and organizations that help families with very low income address many of their challenges. The Director of Housing has been the only staff member responsible for facilitating connections and support to families that rent from UHW. However, the Director of Housing has also been responsible for filling vacant units, managing compliance, and providing maintenance on its rental properties. The other component of the strategic network of good neighbors has been the desire within UHW to facilitate social connections within PODs. The goal has been to expand the social network of POD residents to help families establish stability and a sense of place.

As UHW grew, the property management responsibilities began to consume the workload of the Director of Housing. This has meant that the desire to build this strategic network of good neighbors has remained informal and ad hoc. The growth and organizational change of UHW has lead to the central questions of this research:

  • How can UHW organize itself so that UHW can formalize the process of offering resources and support to families with very low‐income in order to help them establish stability in their housing careers? How can Urban Homeworks intentionally facilitate a strong network of good neighbors within PODs?

The report will attempt to answer these questions by providing recommendations for Urban Homeworks based on three areas of research. They include:

  • A broad‐literature review on housing issues that affect very‐low income families, different housing support models, community engagement, social networks, social capital, and Asset Based Community Development.
  • Findings from interviews conducted with community members in PODs, and
  • Findings from consultative interviews conducted with organizations involved in urban housing and community building activities.

The research process for this project has been iterative and the Community Building team was continually involved in shaping its focus and the following recommendations. Recommendations for Urban Homeworks stem from the information gathered for the literature review, interviews from POD residents, and consultative interviews.

  • Recommendation #1: Develop a formal service enriched housing model that is designed to support families with very‐low incomes to establish stability and self‐sufficiency in their housing careers.
  • Recommendation #2: Expand and develop UHW’s community building model by adopting the formal role of facilitator within PODs.
  • Recommendation #3: Explore ABCD in the Real Estate Development Team. Recommendation #4: Introduce listening sessions as a means to build bridging and linking social capital in and across PODs.
  • Recommendation#5: Integrate the language and conceptual models of social networks and social capital into all of UHWs programming.


Publication date: 
Conducted on behalf of Urban Homeworks. Supported by Neighborhood Partnerships for Community Research (NPCR), a program of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) at the University of Minnesota.
35 pp.
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