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March 7, 2016


Hello returning readers!

Today I wanted to address the concept of advocacy. For HAND, advocacy plays a huge role in the day to day process. For those of you who might not know, advocacy, in a broad sense, is working alongside people to help their voice be heard. I sat down with Tracy Heaton, the head of HAND’s advocacy. She explains advocacy saying, “You’re not their voice, and you’re not ahead of them. A true advocate would be more like a shepherd from the behind, guiding folks along an issue, because they will go where they need to go, not where you think they need to go. It’s a lot of listening, standing alongside, hand holding, but not so much leading.” HAND is involved in advocacy at the state level by staying informed and the neighborhood level by working to improve the local community.

HAND’s participation in advocacy has been a priority for the agency. Recently, HAND worked with the SouthWest Quad in Noblesville to improve their local park. Heaton explains, “The city looked at what assistance they could bring to the park after the neighbors showed their value by hosting a work day where we painted things, ripped out weeds, and planted new plants. The neighbors are willing to do their part, but at some point the city needs to make that investment and it seems that they’re willing to.”

Many people do not understand the importance of advocacy and their individual role in it. While HAND is here to help, it takes the power and voice of residents to get the job done. I asked Heaton why it was important for neighbors to work together and she replied, “When you need that cup of sugar, but you don’t know your neighbor’s name, it’s a little hard to go knock on the door and ask for that. When you accidentally let your dog out and you’re running through the yard, it’s kind of hard to yell for your neighbor’s help when you don’t know their name. On bigger issues, when the orange signs go in front of a business and they’re going to change the zoning, but it’s all these individual voices versus if you knew your neighbor’s and met with them beforehand, you could go to the zoning hearing as a united voice, which is bigger than a bunch of little voices.” When everyone can get together to express their concerns or requests as a group, they are heard and listened to more. Heaton went further to say, “I don’t know that residents know their role in this, that they can begin holding their elected officials accountable for some choices and decisions that they make that may not reflect the values of the voters in Hamilton County. Directions and decisions in our towns need to reflect the compassion and care that I believe Hamilton County voters have.”

Understanding the role of residents is the first step, but what should neighbors do next? How do individuals begin to make the difference in their community? Heaton provided some simple, yet crucial steps to take, “Tapping the expertise of HAND is the best step. Then the really hard step is actually talking to your neighbors. It might seem embarrassing or awkward, but it’s so powerful and it’s a lot easier then it seems.” Talking to the surrounding neighbors can do so much good for the community. Many people find that close knit communities are able to accomplish more; they also tend to enjoy their neighborhood much more when they have a role in it. Our talk ended with her saying, “Advocacy might seem like an angry crowd with burning torches and pitch forks, but typically it isn’t, and we’d like it to never get to that point. If we’re doing little actions of advocacy along the way, then we don’t have to have the big confrontation, because we’re in constant communication, and were constantly telling our towns what we want to see and what we want to see happening.”

Hopefully this information and message can inspire you to take a role in your community. Advocacy plays a big role at HAND and it should in your neighborhood too. It starts with getting to know your neighbors, then it can blossom from there!

March 2, 2016


Today’s blog is about another amazing employee at HAND. Her name is Tracy Heaton. She is HAND’s community outreach coordinator as well as the mother of two teenage boys. Heaton’s favorite colors are green and blue, she loves to read, travel and “yell at my kids.” She’s got a fabulous sense of humor, and a supposedly terrible dog named Bella.

Heaton has worked in nonprofits for most of her career. She explained that she loves her work and finds it very fulfilling as well as very fun. When I asked what she really loved about a nonprofit she said, “You know when you work late or you have to get up for an early morning meeting and you’re tired and you need that motivation? Knowing that what you do gives back to the community and raises up the community makes that all a lot easier.” Heaton feels very inspired and driven to do more and more by her work here. She loves helping others and believes that it’s important and necessary to aid others through her work. I also asked Heaton why her job is important to her, she replied, “I believe in it. I believe in the people I work with. I’m enriched and blessed by meeting neighbors and learning about what’s valuable to them and what’s important and how HAND can contribute, and it’s just plain fun.”

Working with the surrounding community and neighbors is a major part of Heaton’s job. She works alongside residents to get projects done, listen to their wants and needs, and so much more. While asking what she loves about her job, Heaton expressed, “I really love the opportunity to work alongside neighbors on a project: a clean-up, a day in the park, a celebration, a pot luck, those kinds of things are so fun in the neighborhood. Also, really seemingly boring things like our staff meetings are always interesting and I always learn something new.” Heaton is proud of the community she and HAND are helping to build stronger every day. She understands the importance of communication between organizations and residents of Hamilton County; therefore, she works hard to better that communication. I also got the chance to ask Heaton why HAND is important. She explained, “I think (HAND) is particularly important in Hamilton County. Affordable housing is an issue across that state, but in a community where housing is so high-end and so expensive, it’s nearly unattainable if you hit a rough patch financially. If you’re facing a divorce, if you have health issues, if you’re elderly and on restricted income, it starts to become a crisis. I think the neighbors I’ve met in Hamilton County are very passionate and want to care about their neighbors, but don’t know the situation exists. So once they learn about it, they’re usually convinced to be on our side.”

Lastly, Heaton talked to me about how it’s important for other people to understand what HAND does. She says that Hamilton County resident’s involvement is crucial to HAND’s process. Heaton explains, “I think most importantly, if a resident in Hamilton County wants an organization like HAND to thrive, they need to give that message to their elected officials, from their local, all the way to the state, that HAND is important, our work is needed, and it needs to get support from local government.” With the help of citizens, HAND’s part in the community can grow and with the growth is their opportunity to help even more residents. If neighbors can work together, HAND can help resident concerns and suggestions be heard, as a strong, united voice.

State Declines to Fund HAND Proposed Projects

On Thursday, the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority (IHCDA) announced which projects across the state would receive reservations for Low Income Housing Tax Credits, and for the fifth straight year, Hamilton County proposals are denied funding.

Hamilton County Area Neighborhood Development (HAND) proposed two developments this year that would have created 84 affordable apartments and contributed to the revitalization of two significant properties. The Noblesville Granary and Blackhawk Commons in Sheridan also would have established a business incubator in a preserved grain elevator, and a recreational facility in an historic school gymnasium.

In total, HAND proposed to leverage local funds to generate a $20 million investment in Hamilton County. Each development faced significant competition. 15 small cities and 17 rural communities proposed projects to compete with HAND’s proposal. HAND will assess the factors that contributed to the projects not receiving funds, and plans to explore other options.

“HAND is committed to the Southwest Quad and the Town of Sheridan, so the reality is we will continue to advocate for the highest quality, redevelopment project in both locations,” said Lichti. “Whether we get an opportunity to resubmit these proposals is not entirely up to us at the moment, so we’ll work closely with local stakeholders to navigate the next steps.”

Hamilton County has not received these funds since 2011, a time period in which over 10,000 new housing units have been built. “We don’t expect special consideration from the State, but the rules need to accommodate developments that place affordable housing close to jobs and opportunity,” says Lichti.

“Hamilton County is an economic engine that needs workers. It has a population rapidly moving into retirement and Millennials can’t afford to live in the communities they grew up in,” says Lichti. “This housing is critically important to the long-term vibrancy of Hamilton County communities.”

Putting the brakes on these developments also puts a pinch on HAND’s comprehensive strategy. In recent years, HAND increasingly partnered with local communities through its outreach program, “Neighborhoods NOW,” which allows them to work at a neighborhood level on a whole range of quality of life issues. The delay in these developments leads to increasing pressure on local support. HAND will be rallying partners in the coming months to maintain momentum.

“As a nonprofit, we need leaders in each community who believe as we do, that Hamilton County will be a healthier more vibrant community when everyone has safe, affordable housing,” says Lichti. “HAND is rooted in a mission to improve lives and build community, so while strategy may shift, our mission stays the same.”

“In terms of the Noblesville Granary and Blackhawk Commons, let’s just say we’re shifting gears and we may have to explore some alternative options.”

Noblesville Granary

In the meantime demolition of the wooden grain elevator will continue. The current plan preserved the bottom two stories so the historic facility could become a public landmark.

“It does complicate demolition, so I cannot fault the North Central Coop if they proceed with a more conventional demo,” said Lichti. “We’ve been grateful for their cooperation to help us get to this point.”

Local firms have expressed interest in salvaging wood from the structure, and the potential for an onsite sale for the community is still in the works.

A group of Purdue graduate business students are researching how to develop the Noblesville Innovation Elevator – the name of the business incubator proposed for the site. Their report in late April will shed light on what other paths may exist to obtain financing for the preservation.

Blackhawk Commons

Town and county support were critical to the proposal, and HAND will reassess its plans and discuss options with the owner and community. “The worst part is feeling that we let down the people of Sheridan,” says Lichti. “I want them to retain hope that this community gem will be restored to life, and HAND will do whatever we can to make it possible.”

February 24th, 2016


I think it’s important for people to see the faces of HAND, because we take pride in who we are. Therefore, today I wanted to introduce you to one of our wonderful employees. Her name is Tammy Murray. Not only does she work hard in several aspects of HAND, but she’s also the happy mother of three kids. She is also a fan of the color pink after having her first and only daughter! Murray also has a cat and dog that she is happy to say is past its puppy days! She loves doing yoga and being outdoors in her free time as well as volunteering at her church.

Murray works on office management, asset management, and recently property development. This means that she helps with deadlines, talking with tenants and project managers, up keeping tenants quality of life, managing properties on a large scale, and incorporating new properties into HAND. After finishing her long list of jobs, she expressed, “That’s what I do right now, but who knows what I’ll do next week. That’s the perk of working for a nonprofit!” Murray explains, “I’m learning a lot and that’s been very beneficial to be able then to see how decisions we make and the design and building process—how that impacts us from a property maintenance issue. So that’s been really good to see that full circle.” She loves all the roles she has at HAND and is always excited for the new experiences that come with each day.

After staying home with her kids for five years, she decided to go back to work, saying, “I have always had an interest in the construction aspect of it and I wanted to do something that was more involved and engaged with my community and how it impacts those that I live with.” Murray loves the hands-on attitude the company has and loves the direct impact HAND has on Hamilton County. When asked what it’s like to work for a nonprofit she said, “I love working for a nonprofit. I love that we’re focused on our residents, and those in the community and how we can address some of the housing issues that we have in Hamilton County.” Helping others is a driving motivator for Murray and she’s able to truly act on the drive by working with HAND. She’s gotten the opportunity to make a difference in her community every day since starting at HAND.

Murray also explained why HAND is important, saying, “You think about your family members and people you care about, and nobody wants to see their family member live in a situation that’s not of good quality or that’s not safe. That’s why what we do is so important, because we want people to have that.”

I also got the chance to ask Murray her view on the impact HAND has. I was curious to see another perspective, independent of my own, and I was surprised by how much I learned from our conversation. Sometimes we take for granted the things we come home to everyday. Many people in Hamilton County don’t have the luxury of a home and Murray comments, “Housing is such a big piece to someone’s well-being.” Housing has a big effect on the overall health of people and that’s why HAND is such an important company. She also explained that, “Whether it’s a group that works with domestic violence, or a group that works with seniors, or a hospital, housing is such a huge piece. There’s so many aspects that are hitting folks in the community that are related to housing. That was one of the things I didn’t really see until I came to work at HAND.” Housing is near essential to individual’s well-being and it’s vital that everyone has access to affordable, quality living. Murray and HAND are fighting hard to provide people with the safe, comforting housing Hamilton County residents’ need.

January 29th, 2016

Hello! Hope you’re having a great day!
So in this blogpost I thought I’d update and tell you about two of HAND’s current building projects. As you may know, HAND has built housing in Sheridan, Cicero, and Noblesville. Currently HAND is working on transforming and restoring the Roper Capstone building as well as the Noblesville Granary-Elevator and Lofts.
roper capstone front facade cropped  1 3
Roper Capstone is located downtown Noblesville just off the square. HAND has been working hard to renovate and complete the old building into beautiful housing. Construction has just finished and Roper Capstone is officially open! The building has created six new affordable one-bedroom apartment homes just a walk away from downtown Noblesville’s variety of shops, restaurants, and bars. The apartments are looking wonderful and now all that HAND needs is some wonderful residents!
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The other major project HAND is tackling is the Noblesville Granary-Elevator and Lofts, or the grain elevator, or that old mill downtown Noblesville. Being a Noblesville High School Miller myself, I always loved driving or walking by the beautiful structure. I knew our team mascot had derived from the old mill so I took a sort of pride in it, though I had never even been inside it. I mean, what’s a miller without a mill? So when I found out that HAND was working diligently to save the structure from being demolished, I was thrilled! Not too mention I got the perk of taking a look on the inside, and let me tell you, it was breathtaking. The wood beams supporting the structure are never ending and craftsmanship of the wood is astonishing. Only by hand and a hundred years ago could it be built so beautifully. The wooden structure was first built in 1904 with the purpose of expanding Noblesville’s agricultural economy and the town itself. The grain elevator was still in use until about two years ago. HAND is planning on saving as much of the Historic Grain Elevator as possible and using the structure to create 54 apartments for those with low-incomes. The apartments will be accompanied by green space and parking for residents. Also, the apartments will help allow people working downtown to remain close to their job in order to cut down on travel expenses and allow the children of residents to attend Noblesville schools. Though they have just begun the project, HAND has already accomplished so much by saving the historic granary from demolition, and they are proud!