There may be no more important component to a stable life than having a stable place to live. That makes HACE’s mission of creating homes that are affordable to low-income families, seniors, and others integral to Philadelphia’s Latino community in eastern North Philadelphia. The agency also develops commercial property in the neighborhood to encourage small business growth.
Unfortunately, there is a much greater demand for affordable places to live for low-income Philadelphians than there is supply.
“In our housing developments, we have waiting lists of 3-5 years, so the need is very deep,” said HACE’s president, Maria Gonzalez. “That is why we are focused on increasing affordable housing for families and seniors and also providing more homeless housing in our neighborhoods.”
HACE has developed 438 units of affordable rental housing since it was founded in 1982. It also has its own subsidiary property management company, so whatever HACE develops it self-manages. The organization also develops homes for sale to provide opportunities for families to own a piece of the neighborhood and build wealth in their community. Gonzalez said after some slow years they now have a lot of activity underway.
“We completed Casa Indiana in June 2020, 50 units of senior housing,” she said. “It was leased up within 45 days. That’s a testament to the need in our community. We have a mixed-use development underway at 2739 N. 5th Street. That’s going to include 30 units for persons 55 and older and persons with intellectual disabilities who can live independently. We just purchased a property from the archdiocese, repurposing an old, vacant school, and we will develop an additional 30 units of senior housing there. We have nine units under development now for homeownership for lower-income first-time homeowners.”
The Philadelphia Housing Authority has given HACE 75 vacant parcels of land, which HACE plans to develop within the next three years, a combination of rental and homeownership housing.
Many families in HACE’s rental housing also take advantage of the financial literacy education and housing counseling HACE provides to move up and buy homes.
“That’s great because when a renter moves out to buy a home, that opens an opportunity for another family to move into that rental unit and get the support,” Gonzalez said.
HACE is a member of the Latino Equity Development Collaborative. The agency works within the same target neighborhoods as its peer Latino organizations as they support each other while also collectively advocating for additional resources to serve the community. All members of the collective are part of The Promise.
“The Promise funding is going to help us increase the housing counselling services that we provide and enable us to ramp up our tax preparation services, Gonzalez said. “This funding will help us continue to do more outreach and increase the level of services that we provide in our community. We serve many families and now that the child tax credit is available, our families need a little more hand-holding to be able to benefit from those payments.”
As a community development corporation, HACE needs workers to help build and work at those newly developed properties. The organization has partnerships with job training programs to hire from the community, when possible, further increasing the organization’s positive impact.
“We believe in giving people opportunities and also training people from our community so that they’re in a position to do better than the previous generation,” Gonzalez said. We also help small businesses so they can grow and provide opportunities for people in the neighborhood.”
HACE’s southernmost property is Fiesta Hace at 6th and Jefferson, a site that is almost 30 years old. Gonzalez said they plan to knock the building down and replace it with a new building with modern amenities and additional services and supports for families.
Gonzalez is proud of HACE’s record of helping so many people, but she said one case stands out for her.
“As part of our credit counseling there was a gentleman who came in and was able to fix his credit and buy a house in the community,” she said. “Recently, we were successful in getting funding through Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez, so we invested about $450,000 on façade improvements on homes in the neighborhood. And his was one of the properties where we replaced the windows and the door, so it came full circle. It is so nice that we continue to leverage additional supports to people in the community, whether they rent with us or own a property. It’s about supporting housing stability for low-income people.”
Gonzalez said the pandemic certainly set things back in her community, but she believes the government’s response will lead to a major turnaround.
“Before the pandemic our community was on the cusp of changing and doing much better, but I think with the level of resources that will be coming from the local, state, and federal levels, we should be able to be more targeted and help a lot of people and hopefully break that cycle of poverty. Our focus is wealth creation through homeownership because that really elevates a family to be able, over time, to use that equity to help themselves and their children – and maybe that starts a trend of having generational wealth.”