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NeighborWorks Lincoln has had several names, but its goal has always been the same, to strengthen older neighborhoods.

The Lincoln nonprofit began as Neighborhood Housing Services of Lincoln in 1985, formed by residents who were looking for ways to help homeowners maintain their houses, said Coleen Seng, an early neighborhood advocate and former Lincoln mayor.

That early program sought to preserve houses in older neighborhoods through grants and loans so existing homeowners could fix up their houses, said Terry Uland, an early executive director of the group and now president of the Downtown Lincoln Association. 

Over the years the organization changed its name to Neighborhoods Inc. and later NeighborWorks Lincoln and broadened its mission to include promoting homeownership, helping revitalize neighborhoods by buying and renovating property that private developers wouldn't touch, and by advocating for and training community leaders.

And all these things together help keep neighborhoods healthy and improve Lincoln in its entirety, said Mike Renken, chief executive officer.

In 1994 the nonprofit became a charter member of the national NeighborWorks America network, a congressionally chartered nonprofit agency dedicated to improving distressed communities.

NeighborWorks Lincoln has eight employees and a budget of about $1.1 million. That includes fees and donated dollars but around 70 percent of the funding is from federal and state tax dollars.

Homeownership

NeighborWorks promotes homeownership through classes and assistance with down payments and closing costs for moderate-income people who have a positive credit and employment history.

Last year more than 200 households -- 281 individuals -- went through the NeighborWorks homebuyer education classes, a first step in getting financial assistance with buying a home. More than half of those who took the class went on to purchase homes in Lincoln.

The foreclosure rate for NeighborWorks clients was 0.6 percent in 2014 compared to 2.8 percent for the city as a whole.

Rehabilitating houses

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NeighborWorks rehabilitates existing homes and builds new homes in some of the oldest neighborhoods. Last year the organization sold 14 newly constructed single-family and five rehabilitated homes. The organization paid an average $27,563 for the houses and sold the new or rehabbed houses for an average of $134,858.

Community-building

NeighborWorks is also the steam behind grassroots efforts to protect established neighborhoods.

It helps recruit and train neighborhood leaders and it advocates for policies that help improve and maintain neighborhoods.

NeighborWorks helped organize the first potlucks that focused on deteriorated houses, long-term eyesores that city government seemed unable to cure.

The group started the Lincoln Policy Network, a coalition of residents, landlords, business representatives and civic leaders committed to finding solutions for Lincoln’s oldest neighborhoods.

The network has worked on a number of ordinances, from a ban on couches on porches, to the neglected property ordinance that makes it easier for the city to make homeowners fix unsafe houses.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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