Chuck & Jennyrae Brongo @ "The Farm"

Chuck & Jennyrae Brongo @ "The Farm"

Homesteads for Hope was at a standstill, as we could not be a true community farm without the farm. Banks would not look at us without a down payment and significant collateral. Charlie Hammerman and the DOF offered money and guidance that no bank could ever provide.
— Jennyrae Brongo - Founder of Homesteads for Hope

I had a chance to catch up with Charles Hammerman of The Disability Opportunity Fund (DOF) on Long Island. I have known Charlie for a long time, and he deserves credit for his and his wife's determined efforts at The DOF. Background on DOF and Charlie:

The DOF is a community development financial institution (CDFI), that was launched in April 2007. It is located in Albertson, Long Island and operates nationally. As a 501c(3) tax-exempt organization they provide financing, technical services, and policy advocacy to increase access to appropriate and affordable housing and related services for people with disabilities throughout the United States.

Charles Hammerman

Charles Hammerman

Charlie Hammerman brings many years of involvement with initiatives for people with disabilities and significant experience in the financial markets. Prior to the creation of The DOF, Hammerman founded the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, an organization that advances civic, economic and social participation of persons with disabilities in a global society. Hammerman and his wife, Nanci, have seven children, including a daughter with cerebral palsy.

What is a CDFI?

Think of a Community Development Financial Institution as a BANK that lends to markets NOT served by traditional financial institutions. CDFI's provide: 

  • Mortgage financing for low income or first time homebuyers,
  • Small business lending, and
  • Lending for community facilities. 

You can join the Disability CDFI Coalition at DOF:

Which comes first? The house or the community/services? 

Charlie always challenges me to think outside the box. As the Developmentally Disabled population -- and their parents -- ages and moves to the next phase of housing and communities, the question that I continually see raised involves the choice between community and housing. Which comes first?

Some of the issues are:

  • Many of the needed services are in population dense areas where there is a high cost of housing;
  • Cost of housing is also a problem for staff;
  • Many of the lower cost of housing areas do not have the services or the workforce to staff existing and new services. 

The Rochester, NY model below is trying to resolve this tension. It will address the criteria of "Inclusion" in the community. 

The Disability Opportunity Fund (DOF) Success Story: Homesteads for Hope - Rochester, NY

The Disability Opportunity Fund provided Homesteads for Hope (H4H) a $1,200,000 loan to acquire and renovate a family farm. In September 2016, H4H moved into its new home as 100 volunteers (now 250 volunteers have helped) celebrated by updating the barn and other areas of the farm. H4H has a three-step process that combines services and housing:

Phase 1: The Forever Homestead 

Launched 2016 - The renovation of the historic barns will allow year-round programming, the creation of an expanded Farm School, a Multi-Farm CSA Vocational Program, and the first Non-Certified Residence. 

Phase II: The Farm Expansion

To serve more people by creating more programs & services through the development of a public venue.

Phase III: The Homesteads Village

The development and donstruction of a 30-acre non-certified residential village to accommodate over 150 people living with and without disabilities.

Homesteads for Hope (H4H) was founded by Jenny Brongo who is the sibling of a person on the autism spectrum. Jenny has developed H4H for him and others in Ogden, NY outside of Rochester. The H4H property has 2500 feet of shoreline on the Erie Canal, a house, with an attached apartment, barns, out buildings and a greenhouse. I spoke with Jenny this week, and I expect to visit the farm in early June: