Community Impact

“They can’t afford to pay us back” doesn’t sound like the typical beginning to a story about a bank loaning hundreds of thousands of dollars, does it? But sometimes, you know something is going to be so valuable to the community, you have to find a way to make it happen.

 

In working to find ways to finance a new home for developmentally disabled adults to live independent lives just steps from the center of Lebanon with work sites, shops, restaurants, arts venues, a farmer’s market, and public transportation, Mascoma Bank needed to make a commitment and take a leap of faith on a project that was simply “the right thing to do.”

 

Visions for Creative Housing Solutions helps adults with developmental and similar disabilities move from the care of their parents to a stable, reliable, and caring environment.

Visions knows that parents of adult children with developmental disabilities are used to balancing fear and hope. They hope that their children will be able to live fulfilling, independent lives, but fear for what will happen when they are no longer around to support their children.

“The standard model for long-term care of adults with developmental disabilities is more of an adult foster care model,” said Sylvia Dow, Visions’ Executive Director and founder. “If individuals already have a strong nuclear family, what they are really looking for is a place of their own.”

The first Visions home, Sunrise Farm in Enfield, was created by converting a property previously owned by Sylvia Dow’s parents. Sunrise Farm helped residents build long-term friendships while supporting their sense of well-being and self-worth. It has been so successful that demand far outstripped capacity. After much searching, an ageing property on Green Street in Lebanon presented an ideal location for a new residence, complete with excellent access to public transportation plus options for employment, volunteer opportunities, a range of recreational facilities, cultural events, banks, and shopping all within walking distance. But it would not be easy to move this idea from opportunity to reality.

“I can’t imagine how we could have done this without Mascoma Bank.”

Pulling together enough money to fund the full renovation project would require a lot of creativity and a few leaps of faith. Fundamentally, the assessed value of the home would never match up to the amount that would need to be financed, and even if a traditional loan was possible, Visions could not pay it back with the rent rates they would charge to keep residency affordable.

Mascoma Commercial Lender Bill Dunn learned about the project from colleague Dick Jennings. “This is the type of project Mascoma Bank is uniquely positioned to support,“ said Dunn. “Since they needed funds to build, but couldn’t afford to pay us back, to keep the project moving forward, we had to express interest and continually show support without fully committing until we could find a way to sponsor it and help secure a viable funding plan.”

Dunn knew that the Bank had previously worked with Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston on similar projects and that there could be grant money available, but it would be a competitive process and it would require the sponsorship and support of a local bank like Mascoma. And that support is one of the key application characteristics that go into the scorecard on which projects from across New England are measured as they compete for limited funds.

 

Aerial image and video courtesy of William Daugherty

Combining the Federal Home Loan grant with funding from Mascoma Bank would enable construction to start, but even with that level of support, annual income from the house would not be enough to pay off a loan. Because they couldn’t finance this the traditional way of taking out a loan and paying it back, Visions applied to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority (New Hampshire Housing) and their grant program for special needs populations. New Hampshire Housing approved them for a 30-year, interest-free forgivable loan. The primary stipulation is that they need to make sure the house stays as low-income special needs housing for that duration. Assuming they can continue to serve their target population for 30 years, the loan will be forgiven. Once the house is completed and ready for residence, that loan will be used to pay off the construction loan from Mascoma Bank.

As so many complex pieces of the puzzle were taking time to fit into place, a new challenge and opportunity arose. Estes & Gallup Builders could start construction sooner than the housing organizations could make money available. When the primary construction loan had not yet closed—due to the complexity of the transaction—Mascoma Bank stepped in with an ample line of credit so that Estes & Gallup could begin construction.

“We are empowered to do the right thing,” said Dunn, explaining why Mascoma is able and willing to step into this type of project that other banks would shy away from. “There is flexibility and trust within the entire organization. You know that even if there’s a glitch, our team will be there, and the call you’ll get is someone coming to help solve the problem, not point fingers or question your judgement.”

“The magic of working with Mascoma Bank is that the relationship is not only professional and business-like but also very human and humane,” said Dow. “Mascoma Bank’s support has been essential to making this project possible, but I also think about the many employees who came to work on the house, as well as Mascoma employees who made personal contributions and had their gifts matched by the Bank.”

“Bill Dunn is so passionate about supporting the mission of our organization. Like everyone we work with at Mascoma Bank he is kind, knowledgeable, and not at all intimidating.”

One of the other unique elements of the way Visions works is they know there will always be more demand than they can support, so rather than keep their methods and systems proprietary, they have published a tool kit that enables other nonprofits to mirror their model in other communities. As a result, this is truly a seed that can keep growing in both in our community and well beyond.

“Green Street means so much to residents—it was full almost immediately after we announced it,” said Dow. “Eleven new residents will move in soon and we are already starting to develop plans for our next big project in Hanover at the former ‘Outreach House’ on Park Street.”

“If not for Mascoma Bank,” said Dow, “this would not have been possible.”

I am amazing
I can do anything
Positivity is a choice
I celebrate my individuality
I am prepared to succeed
With love and understanding
We learn and grow together
We are Team Visions!