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4 HOMEOWNER AGENCIES NOW UNDER 1 ROOF

A group of city leaders dedicated to helping residents buy and repair homes recently moved into its own new residence on Main Street.

The Carolyn Van Schaik Home Ownership Center is a collection -- under one roof -- of four city agencies that have provided the same services to different areas of the city for years.

Located in the Carnegie Building at 1022 Main St., the center offers credit counseling, education in first-time homeownership, and grants and loans to help residents buy and rehabilitate homes. There will continue to be smaller offices throughout the city.

Though its first class was held last month, a formal opening ceremony was held Thursday afternoon, with state and local officials in attendance.

Until recently, it was thought that the leaders of the three nonprofit housing agencies in the city could not work together. "There was a long history of noncollaboration, but Carolyn was a visionary," said John Drake, executive director of nonprofit Center City Neighborhood Development Corp. "She dreamed the dream and forced us to dream it."

Van Schaik had been a director of the Center City agency and is admired for having had a passion to improve the community by addressing housing issues. She died at age 41 in June 2003 from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.

She had been especially instrumental in getting leaders of two of the agencies to communicate, said Larry Krizan, executive director of the nonprofit Niagara Falls Neighborhood Housing Services Corp., or NHS.

Together, those agencies -- Center City and NHS -- produced 20 or 30 homebuyers last year, Krizan said.

Krizan, who manage the new center, said that with the collaboration of the newly created city Community Development Department and the third nonprofit, Highland Community Revitalization Committee Inc., he wants to increase that number to 100 or 200 new homebuyers.

The center will focus on low- to middle-income families, single-parent households and minorities, all groups that qualify for many federal programs and grants for first-mortgage financing and other programs.

Funding is also received on a continuing basis from six banks -- HSBC, M&T, KeyBank, First Niagara, Charter One and Citibank. Mayor Vince Anello, who made room for the center at the Carnegie Building and also ushered the project through, said he will appropriate a portion of local casino money to aid middle- to upper-income people who do not qualify for federal programs but need help to buy or improve homes.

Krizan said that homeowners make communities prosperous and that Niagara Falls has a homeownership rate of only 50 percent, compared with the national average of about 69 percent.

e-mail: gnorheim@buffnews.com

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