OMAHA, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — Don Curry said he knows firsthand how affordable housing can help boost a kid toward success.
As a 13-year-old in 1983, he and his mom and sister became one of the first families in Omaha’s scattered-site public housing program. They lived in a government-subsidized home near 16th and Emmet Streets before Curry moved away for college and, later, graduate school.
Today the entrepreneur is back in Omaha with his wife and two daughters. But now he is the property owner, having bought a vacant lot a half-block from where he grew up — with the dream to pay it forward by building an affordable place for others to live in.
Enter Omaha-based Front Porch Investments.
On Thursday, the nonprofit, backed by several area philanthropic foundations, announced that it is awarding more than $7.3 million in grants and low-interest loans to 13 entities committed to advancing affordable housing options — including Curry’s startup real estate development business.
Curry, 52, said it’s an answered prayer.
While he has rehabilitated homes for rent and has launched successful restaurants, he is new to homebuilding. He figured he’d be searching a while to find a financial institution willing to provide a conventional construction loan.
“I know what affordable housing was able to do for me and my family,” Curry said upon learning of the award. “This is sentimental. It feels good knowing I’m going to be able to do something to help somebody else.”
The Front Porch awards are the group’s first batch intended to put more dwellings within the reach of low-to-moderate-income people in the Omaha area. The initial round will help create about 750 dwellings, preserve some living quarters, buoy housing support programs and kickstart a few new programs.
Winners were selected from 37 applications that requested a total of nearly $50 million.
In addition to providing a financial boost, the process was intended to provide Front Porch leadership with a better feel for the pool and readiness of groups trying to launch affordable housing projects.
“We so appreciate the organizations tackling and prioritizing affordable housing,” said Meridith Dillon, executive director. “We look forward to expanding our partnerships as we continue leveraging funding for long-term sustainable success.”
Eva Roberts, director of policy and strategy, said the team was encouraged by the number and variety of applicants. “What we learned will assist the team in further developing sound strategies for future funding,” she said.
A committee judged applications based on a range of criteria. Requests went through rigorous review that also considered new approaches and opportunities for diverse populations, said Naomi Hattaway, director of communications and community initiatives.
Front Porch leaders said the “innovation round” was just the beginning. Later this summer, the nonprofit, supported by both public and private sector entities, is to launch another phase.
Fundraising is ongoing, and the group’s fund to develop and preserve affordable housing is expected to grow to about $200 million.
Talented Tenth Group
In Curry’s case, the Front Porch assist allows him to launch the company he calls the Talented Tenth Group, inspired by the W.E.B. Du Bois essay that popularized the concept of developing leadership among a talented 10% of African Americans to lift up all others.
Curry, whose family originally moved to Omaha from Chicago, said he returned to Omaha about six years ago after friends encouraged him to open a restaurant similar to one he ran in Chicago. (Among his ventures in Chicago was a popular mobile soul food truck and a cafe, both steeped in the legacy of baseball Negro Leagues.)
But, locally, business slowed, and he opted to shift his focus to real estate, as he had done previously in Illinois.
Curry’s plan was to build his first of several small multi-family structures on the vacant lot he bought near 16th and Emmett Streets, not far from the scattered-site address where he lived as a youth. He was researching financial prospects when he learned of Front Porch.
Front Porch awarded him a $132,423 construction grant and a low-interest $600,000 loan that should cover the cost of his first build.
Rent for most of the three-bedroom dwellings he plans will be $1,300 to $1,400, Curry said, though up to one-third of the units would charge a slightly higher market rate rent to ensure financial viability of the overall plan.
Curry will name his first project The Lillian, after his great grandmother. All Talented Tenth Group developments will carry the name of one of his grandmas or great-grandmas, he said, as they are feel-good rocks of security.
“Everyone in our day would go to grandma’s house after church or for holidays. It was your home away from home,” Curry said. “This is paying homage to them and the family environment.”
A total of about $7.3 million goes to:
$1.4 million acquisition loan to Hoppe & Son Development
$1.05 million construction loan and $557,620 construction grant to Seventy-Five North Revitalization Corp.
$1 million pre-development loan to Forever North Real Estate
$700,000 construction loan/mini perm loan to NOC Redevelopment Group
$600,000 construction/mini perm loan and $132,423 construction grant to Talented Tenth Group
$552,615 pre-development loan to Omaha Economic Development Corp.
$500,000 pre-development loan to HELP Foundation of Omaha
$273,800 program and capacity-building grant to Project Houseworks
$210,000 program grant to Habitat for Humanity of Omaha
$150,000 program grant for 712 Initiative
$149,275 program and capacity-building grant to Spark
$145,000 program and capacity-building grant to inCommon Community Development
$50,000 planning grant to Canopy South.
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