(Fishers, Indiana – November 11, 2015): On Tuesday, over 125 guests attended the inaugural Neighborhoods NOW Conference hosted by Hamilton County Area Neighborhood Development (HAND). 35 professionals provided leadership to fifteen unique workshops, all organized under the themes of the day: Growth, Affordability, Seniors and Neighborhood Development.
The purpose of the day was to explore how diverse stakeholders can work together to address prevalent community development issues. During his opening remarks, Nate Lichti, Executive Director of HAND, recognized Hamilton County leads the state in several quality of life indicators, but this doesn’t mean local leaders are stopping there. “We know we’re going to continue striving for excellence, and with 7-8,000 new residents every year, the dynamics are always changing.”
Affordable Housing was high on the agenda given the significant role it plays in many quality of life issues. “We addressed the stigma head on today and our presenters showed many examples of affordable housing done right,” said Lichti. Prominent local developers like Pedcor, Herman Kittle Properties, Real America and Milestone Ventures were in attendance and prepared to answer any questions about tax credit developments. Several single family developers, such as Pulte, also participated in the conversations.
Lichti pointed out that Hamilton County homeowners earning over $75,000 a year receive the lion’s share of the federal subsidies to make housing affordable. “73% of homeowners in Hamilton County receives, on average, $2,100 a year in tax relief through the mortgage interest deduction on their income tax return,” reported Lichti. This translates into approximately $117 Million in tax benefits claimed annually by middle and upper income homeowners.
“This matters,” Lichti says, “because subsidies are perceived negatively when we’re talking about working families or other low income households. Nothing comes close to this kind of support for renters or affordable housing developments.”
In one discussion, Drew Klacik, Professor of Public Policy at IUPUI, shared that all too often, “Hoosiers are striving to be average, and we need to aim higher…Hamilton County is in a position to lead the way on a number of issues.” The participants were certainly motivated to do so.
Items on the agenda for follow-up include support for the public transit forum that’s seeking a referendum in 2016, ongoing advocacy to change the hearts and minds about affordable housing, and more community participation in local government, especially in local zoning.
The guests included a mix of communities, public and private businesses, and numerous associations. “We were proud to have business and economic development experts talking with social service representatives and community volunteers,” said Lichti. “This networking is essential to move things forward, and everyone here wants to make sure something changes.”
Workshops were offered on Transit, Healthcare, and Economic Development, to name a few. Many participants commented that there were too many appealing topics, a problem the conveners were pleased to have.
Students from Hamilton Heights also participated in the conference for the morning sessions and walked away inspired to pursue change in their communities. The rest of the participants also greatly appreciated the comments made by the students during sessions on Affordable Housing 101 and Homelessness and Schools.
“They were insightful and asked some very good questions,” said Cory Daly, one of the facilitators for the day. “These young adults showed that they understand what’s going on in their community.”
HAND plans to organize community forums and advocacy campaigns around the ideas coming out of the conference. “These issues require a holistic approach,” reported Phil Anderson during the closing panel. “We need to work on ways to develop walkable neighborhoods, but to also make sure they’re connected to the resources around them: jobs, commerce, healthcare, etc.”
In his closing remarks, Nate Lichti, Executive Director of HAND, said we shined a spotlight on Hamilton County’s pursuit of excellence, and explored ways to continue improving this for the next generation. “The next steps aren’t simple, but at least we know there are a lot of partners at our side.”
Sponsors for the event are Visit Hamilton County, Legacy Fund, Old National Bank, Lake City Bank, Flaherty & Collins, IACED, City of Carmel, Indy Connect and PNC. Additional sponsors also include: MIBOR, Urban Land Institute, Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, PEDCOR, RealAmerica, Milestone Ventures, AARP of Indiana and the Noblesville Chamber. Videos were also produced by Noblesville High School students, Olivia Goad and Adam Van Dam. These will be available on HAND’s web-site for public viewing.
HAND invests in neighborhoods, provides housing solutions, and builds partnerships to improve the lives and build community in Hamilton County. Individuals interested in learning more can visit www.handincorporated.org or call 317-674-8108 for more information.