City of Niles, Michigan Gateway Community Foundation partner to help community members

NILES – A new roof is just one of the repairs a partnership between a regional organization and the city of Niles have been able to assist a local resident with lately.

On Feb. 10, the city of Niles received a $20,000 grant from the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation’s Help for Homes fund.

The funding was able to be allocated to help three different households, in addition to the privacy fence at Ferry Street Resource Center.

“Safe housing is defined as something that does not jeopardize the health, safety or welfare of its occupants,” read a Facebook post from the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation announcing the grant. “The cost associated with keeping a home safe is far too often one of the building blocks of poverty, homelessness, illness and poor mental health.”

The post announced the organization’s partnership with the city of Niles in helping to repair homes for low-income occupants and senior owned housing.

“This is the second time we’ve gotten this,” said city of Niles Community Development Director Sanya Vitale.

The first grant was announced in November 2020.

Before former city of Niles Fire Chief Larry Lamb retired in 2020, Vitale spoke with him and his wife, Jayne, who works with the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation, about some of the challenges residents were facing. Larry’s role included code enforcement duties.

“We were looking for some help for how to help people with their code enforcement deficiencies,” Vitale said. “[Larry] said ‘why don’t you guys apply for these monies?’”

Vitale said the city did, and it has worked out well.

“We’ve helped a couple of really low-income homeowners with some projects they needed help with,” Vitale said. “When we didn’t have funds available, then we have done other, helpful things. We bought smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors when we didn’t have money to do more.”

Residents within the Niles city limits who need assistance testing their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can call the City of Niles Fire Department to assist, with help from the grant funding. Vitale said residents who need assistance with checking, or replacing, detectors can call the City of Niles Fire Department at (269) 683-2374.

The funding from this round of the grant is already mostly gone, said Vitale, but what is left has been allocated to doing spring-cleanups projects in the city.

“We are going to do hoarding supports, park clean-ups, dumpster programs and blight remediation,” Vitale said. “Some stuff that we really hope will turn our little town upside down. We want to make everybody feel a little bit better come spring and early summer. Really, between Mike Rowland, Jayne Lamb and the legacy that Chief [Larry] Lamb left behind, that’s what these grant funds do for our community.”

The grant from the foundation gives the city what Vitale called “the first rung on the ladder” to help it boost programs for spring cleanups.

“It’s remarkable to be able to help the people in the community who otherwise would not have a resource,” Vitale said.
Vitale said through the grant, a partnership was made in Berrien County as well where the city was able to help a resident in a surrounding township.

“Very often, there are funds available to major communities, like Niles and Benton Harbor, but very few are for the people in townships,” Vitale said.

Through partnering with Katie Montoya, assistant director of community development and housing coordinator with Berrien County, Vitale said some of the funding was able to help put a roof on man’s trailer in a local township.

“We were able to package it with the funds from the foundation and funds from the department of health and human services that [the homeowner] was able to secure,” Vitale said. “That was really the remarkable resource for somebody who otherwise wouldn’t have it. That’s what these foundations fund.”

Vitale called it “perfect intergovernmental cooperation” when it all came together for the homeowner.

The grant was funded by the Help for Homes Fund, an endowment Habitat for Humanity has created.

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