To afford fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit in Huntsville, a resident must bring home at least $13.79 per hour to make ends meet.
Employees making Alabama’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would have to work 76 hours per week all year to afford the $717 monthly cost of rent and utilities in Huntsville. For single parents, that leaves little time to further their own education, focus on their mental health or attend PTA meetings at their child’s school.
“You can’t have it both ways,” said Michelle Jordan, Director of Planning for the City of Huntsville. “You want parents to be active in school. You want parents to be active in their kids’ lives. Be there after school and discipline kids who aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Be a member of the community, but that single mom can’t if she’s working 70 hours a week just to pay rent.”
NCI focuses on strengthening neighborhoods through the creation of affordable housing and the advancement of economic opportunities across the Southeast.
That’s where Huntsville’s Neighborhood Concepts, Inc. (NCI) comes in. Incorporated 30 years ago as a not-for-profit corporation, NCI focuses on strengthening neighborhoods through the creation of affordable housing and the advancement of economic opportunities across the Southeast.
Active throughout Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, NCI is responsible for more than 1,500 apartment homes for underserved senior citizens and families. NCI Executive Director Mary Ellen Judah, who has been with the organization a collective 20 years, said affordable housing sets the foundation for strong neighborhoods.
“No matter what someone’s obstacle is to self-sufficiency – whether it’s education, mental health, domestic violence, or being underemployed – they can’t really begin to address that until they’re safely and affordably housed,” she said. “To me, that’s the foundation.”
NCI formed in 1988 in response to a lawsuit filed by residents of Binford Court, an aging Huntsville public housing community scheduled for demolition. The organization worked with government and local leaders to rebuild a modern apartment facility where the former World War II barrack-style cinderblock development once stood.
Since that time, NCI has been a part of multiple housing projects designed to help neighborhoods flourish. The organization is currently general partner and developer of Cottages at Indian Creek, a 56-unit affordable senior community in Huntsville slated for completion in early 2020.
Legacy of support
To help honor one of NCI’s earliest champions, Phil Dotts, and his wife, Kathleen, NCI announced the Philip & Kathleen Dotts Scholarship Fund in September during the organization’s 30th anniversary celebration. Dotts, a member of the founding board of directors for NCI, was at the Huntsville City Council meeting in 1987 when residents expressed concern over the demolition of Binford Court.
Dotts, who had a heart for the underserved, began putting together a group to help redevelop Binford Court for the Huntsville community. From there, NCI was born.
With his wife, a longtime Huntsville educator, by his side, Dotts said he is appreciative of the work NCI started 30 years ago and continues today.
“The creation of the scholarship in our names is especially meaningful to us as we are both great believers in the power of education,” he said.
The Philip & Kathleen Dotts Scholarship Fund will provide much needed financial assistance to low-to-moderate income residents of NCI housing communities who are pursuing a college education or non-degree certificate training program.
The scholarship will be another part of NCI’s mission to give residents the tools they need to be successful. In addition to scholarship funds, Judah said NCI also provides financial literacy education, mental health resources, credit rebuilding workshops, job readiness training and more.
“Not everyone wants to or can go to college, but everyone needs to be able to make a living wage,” she said.
Support for small business
In 2013, NCI formed the North Alabama Revolving Loan Fund (NARLF) to provide financing and other technical assistance to small businesses working to create or retain jobs in the area. Loans range from $5,000 to $250,000 for borrowers unable to qualify for traditional capital from banks or credit unions.
When reviewing prospective applicants, NCI typically gives preference to businesses in underserved communities across 11 North Alabama counties. NARLF was the first local small business revolving loan fund in Alabama to receive a U.S. Treasury certificate as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in 2015.
As NCI celebrates a milestone anniversary in Huntsville, Dotts said the organization has a bright future ahead.
“And it all started because some like-minded people got together to try to fix a problem,” he said. “It’s not a unique story – many other organizations that add to our city’s quality of life have similar stories. I’m just glad that I could play a small part in the creation and evolution of NCI.”
To support the Philip & Kathleen Dotts Scholarship Fund, contributions may be sent to Neighborhood Concepts, 100 Washington St., N.E., Suite B3, Huntsville, AL, 35801.