Northshore Neighborhood Housing Services

Published 12:02 pm Friday, November 9, 2012

By Jan Gibson

The Daily News

Ron Usner and Marilyn Donald visited the Bogalusa Rotary Club’s Tuesday meeting with information about the Northshore Neighborhood Housing Services organization, an offshoot of the original NHS program based in New Orleans. Through the organization, clients can receive credit counseling, take classes in financial fitness, take classes to move toward home ownership and also get foreclosure prevention counseling.

City of Bogalusa Personnel Director Sandy Bloom introduced the NHS speakers, noting that Usner, the homeownership center director for the Northshore NHS, has more than 30 years’ experience in mortgage lending and non-profit home purchase assistance, and in the private sector he was involved in branch and department management and savings and loan management.

Donald, Northshore NHS counselor and trainer, has 20 years’ experience in equal opportunity community outreach real estate and home ownership counseling. She has a bachelor of public administration degree and has worked for NASA, eventually becoming the equal opportunity director for the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. After 10 years of government work, she has since worked for the past 20 years in other public service positions.

“Basically, the non-profit network around the country is much more pervasive than I ever realized when I was in the private sector,” said Usner, as he took the podium.

“What we have always done,” he said, “is guide people through that process (becoming a homeowner). In addition to home ownership, we often help folks that have to do rehab or renovation on their homes. The service we provide depends totally and completely on what funding is available.

Usner said that much of the funding for the NHS organization comes from grants from organizations such as United Way; from an “umbrella,” government-funded organization that funds non-profits in virtually every state; foundations; private donations, etc.

Usner explained the services provided by NHS, which include making people aware of the steps involved in purchasing a home, and giving them free one-on-one counseling. He also said that counselors will explain how credit works and how to manage credit, giving folks an understanding of how important good credit is toward buying a home.

Clients are also given access to local professionals, such as lenders, realtors, inspectors and attorneys, so that when the time comes to close the deal they will know what they are signing when the loan closes.

Usner noted that his organization, Neighborhood Housing Services, has been around for 30 to 35 years, with never enough money, but always finding enough to survive.

“We think we do good work and we like helping people and that’s what we do,” said Usner.

Donald began by thanking everyone for attending, and thanking The First Bank, which provides NHS with an office at no charge.

She talked about the company’s brochure, which points out the many things NHS does in addition to helping people become homeowners and which also includes testimonials from folks in Bogalusa, in addition to other cities like Mandeville and Covington.

She also discussed the economic impact in Bogalusa from their services. From January 2009 through October 2011 NHS-Northshore was funded by Washington Parish Government to provide services for an 18-month period, three days a week, eight hours a day. In that period, the dollar amount of home sales in Bogalusa was $153,500, and the total in rehab and repair was $35,149.

“There’s definitely a need in the community for this service. We’re here, we’re committed and we’re here to stay as long as we receive funding.

“Right now,” she said, “we’re receiving all of our funding from United Way. Ms. Champagne has been wonderful keeping us afloat.”

Charlotte Champagne is the director of the Washington Parish Regional Office of United Way.

But unfortunately, she continued, “We are getting more and more clients in and we don’t have enough funding to help them.”

Donald said that they had predicted that about 30-40 people would come in from Bogalusa specifically for housing counseling, but so far this year 89 have come in. In addition, she said, a lot of their rehab business is in Bogalusa.

“You have a lot of people here who own their own homes but they’re on a fixed income to where even two or three thousand dollars is just too much for them to fix a roof or fix a floor.”

For more information on the Northshore Neighborhood Housing Services, visit the website at www.nhsnorth or, or call the Washington Parish office, located at The First Bank, at 732-0064.