Housing agencies to celebrate new merger at 'friendraiser'

Two affordable-housing organizations - one based in Old Saybrook and the other in Old Lyme - have joined together in a move that representatives say could lead to new housing opportunities.

Supporters will gather tonight to celebrate the consolidation between HOPE Partnership of Old Saybrook and Old Lyme Affordable Housing Corp.

Incorporated in 2004, HOPE Partnership's mission is to develop, educate and advocate for more affordable housing along the shoreline, said Executive Director Lauren Ashe. The nonprofit has developed initiatives in Middlesex County, including working with the town of Old Saybrook to build Ferry Crossing, a 16-unit affordable community.

More than 10 years ago, Old Lyme Affordable Housing grew out of an effort among three churches to create affordable housing in the community. The independent organization has built three homes in town, owned by residents, through donations of land and funds. Under the housing model, the home owners pay taxes only on their residences, not on the land entrusted to the organization.

The recent consolidation between the two organizations, finalized this month, will expand their reach and bring an opportunity for HOPE partnership to develop a future project in Old Lyme, representatives said.

"Our roots are spreading a little bit," Ashe said.

In its more than 10-year tenure, Old Lyme Affordable Housing has overseen the land where the affordable homes are located and interviewed new applicants when residents move out. But it has, at times, proved difficult to find additional donated land for more homes, said Bonnie Reemsnyder, who has served in the past as the organization's president.

"I think HOPE Partnership has a broader reach, and they have a very active board with some very diverse backgrounds," said Reemsnyder, who is Old Lyme's first selectwoman. "The group they have pulled together to move this initiative forward is impressive."

Reemsnyder, who will now serve on HOPE's advisory board, said she feels a regional approach to affordable housing will be successful. HOPE has made a commitment to look for opportunities in Old Lyme, as well as other opportunities for residents, she said.

Affordable housing is important to Old Lyme, particularly for providing opportunities for many hard-working residents who serve on the town's volunteer organizations, as well as the next generation, to remain living in town, Reemsnyder said.

"I think it's important to all of us to have opportunities for our children to be able to settle in the community they grew up in, if that's their choice," she said.

Ashe said the HOPE Partnership educates people about the need for affordable housing and dispels myths that often surround the topic.

The organization itself grew out of efforts from an Old Saybrook church, whose members and leaders learned that many local children's families were living in motels because their families couldn't afford housing, according to the organization's history. It was often easier for the families to pay cash for a room, rather than afford a security deposit or down payment, Ashe said.

Along the shoreline, residents may live in hotels or "academic rentals" of cottages, but the hotels often raise rates in the summer and the cottages are often occupied in the summer, she explained.

Residents in need of affordable housing may be working full time but unable to make ends meet for their family, Ashe said. Affordable housing can also enable people to stay in the community where they grew up and remain close to their support system, Ashe said.

For example, HOPE Partnership helped a woman with a medically disabled son afford housing close to her family. The woman previously had to stop working to care for her son. But after relocating close to her family, who helped care for him, she was able to work a part-time job and no longer needed state assistance.

"I don't think a lot of people realize there's a need in our area," Ashe said.

k.drelich@theday.com

Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

IF YOU GO

What: HOPE Partnership and Old Lyme Affordable Housing "Friendraiser" to celebrate the organizations' consolidation.
When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. tonight
Where: The Cooley Gallery, 25 Lyme St., Old Lyme
Other details: RSVP to (860) 388-9513 or ltmccluskey@msn.com. The free event will offer "fine art, food, wine and fellowship."

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