Twelve years ago, Faith Church was on the verge of spending nearly $9 million on a new auditorium for its constituents in Lafayette, IN. As the church’s leadership team reviewed the final paperwork, someone asked what turned out to be a path-changing question: “Is it really the best use of this money to spend on a building that will sit vacant six-and-a-half days per week?”
Since that fateful question, Faith Church has developed three massive community centers, transformed dozens of distressed properties, and created a residential program for at-risk young women.
But first, there was a lot of community outreach and data gathering.
“We knew we wanted to do something to try to show love to our neighbors, but we really weren’t sure how to do that,” said Pastor Steve Viars of Faith Church. “At the beginning of all this, we looked around said: ‘Shame on us for not knowing. We have to ask.’”
The church conducted a comprehensive community survey, gathering nearly 400 pages worth of narrative and numerical data calling for services related to affordable childcare, at-risk teens, at-risk moms, recreational activities for singles and families, and help for people who had lost their jobs or were struggling financially.
The end result was a 65,000-square-foot community center complete with an indoor pool, fitness center, gymnasium, skate park, walking trails, café, and more.
But that’s still the beginning of this story. Faith Church eventually opened a second large community center on the West Side of Lafayette – the agency now calls the two centers Faith East and Faith West – and the Mayor of Lafayette approached them with another turning-point question: What you’re doing in the suburbs is great, but what about the most economically distressed areas of town?
Faith Church decided to form a CDC – community development corporation – in order to leverage some federal and local dollars that would enable it to transform distressed properties in Lafayette’s Northend neighborhood.
“That’s when the community really started to notice us,” Viars says. “We send young people to demo a house, and the retired woman next door sees us – she’s been there for 40 years, and her husband and kids are gone, and she’s ecstatic someone is doing something good on her street. She asks those teenagers to help with her bushes, and they come back the following weekend. And now she’s telling them about the veteran down the street that needs a ramp, and now we’re off and rolling. Now we’re not just affecting a house; we’re affecting a street. Then we’re not just affecting a street; we’re affecting a neighborhood. That’s what redevelopment has meant for us.”
The next step was almost inevitable – if Faith CDC can operate two beautiful community centers in the suburbs, why not in Northend?
“We started talking to other nonprofits working in the neighborhood, and we kept hearing the same thing: a lot of great people doing a lot of great things, but all of them feeling under-resourced, all of them wishing they could build a new facility, all of them wanting additional amenities to better serve their part of town,” Viars explains.
That’s why the Northend Community Center (NCC) was designed not only as a community center – complete with pool, fitness room, gyms, and other amenities – but also as a kind of “nonprofit mall” where 13 different local agencies share basic office equipment, conference rooms, and breakrooms, while still maintaining their own dedicated spaces.
“With our first two community centers, we really saw the power of partnerships. We saw that we could serve the community six-and-a-half days per week, and still have our church services on Sunday mornings – it was very efficient,” Viars says. “With NCC, there’s a similar efficiency mindset. Instead of having a conference room sit vacant 90 percent of the time, we all have a couple of rooms that we share.”
The NCC campus, which opened on September 16th, includes three structures: (1) a 3,500-square-foot car repair shop for people experiencing financial hardships; (2) a 6,000-square-foot shelter for families experiencing homelessness; and (3) the 90,000-square-foot anchor building that includes the community center and co-working space for about a dozen nonprofits. In addition to Faith CDC as an anchor tenant, the other nonprofits in NCC include: Bauer Family Resources, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Family Promise of Greater Lafayette, Flour Mill Bakery and Café, Hanna Community Center, Latino Center for Wellness and Education, Reclaimed Hope, Shine On University, and the Tippecanoe Senior Center.
The tenants are experiencing natural programmatic efficiencies in the shared space. Folks using the senior center are walking across the hall to read books to kids in the Head Start program. Adults with special needs are learning job skills by helping maintain the space for those experiencing homelessness. And businesses in the area are coming in to use the community spaces because they know people are already there.
“Essentially we’ve built an airport where people can fly their jet of resources into our space, make that program or service available, and then fly out when they’re done,” Viars says. “This project was huge. There’s no way we could have built something on this scale was it not for the New Markets Tax Credits.”
IFF provided the project with a $7 million New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) allocation, providing approximately $2.3 million in gross equity. NMTC benefits include low rates and 7 years of interest-only payments.
Like most tax credits, NMTCs incentivize investment. More specifically, NMTCs stimulate investment and economic growth in low-income urban neighborhoods and rural communities that often lack access to the private investment needed to grow businesses, create jobs, and sustain healthy local economies. The bipartisan program is known for its efficient use of tax dollars, generating $8 of private investment for every $1 of federal spending.
“When we first heard of New Markets Tax Credits, it sounded too good to be true. But of course it wasn’t. And IFF became a good friend and coach throughout the entire project,” Viars says. “They helped us make our resources go a lot further. And as we’ve learned, when you start using your resources to love your neighbors, it’s just infectious.”