Q&A with Danielle Smith

Helping improve housing conditions in Oneida County is main goal of HomeOwnershipCenter, says its chief executive officer

By David Podos

Q: What are the main programs and services that you offer and whom do you offer them to?
A: Our main program is housing rehabilitation; this is our leading service. This service is offered to both new [first time] homeowners and current homeowners. For existing homeowners, we have funding for Oneida County, specifically here in the city of Utica and Madison County.

So, for example, someone may need major roof repair but cannot afford it, we will step in to make sure the roof is fixed. We also help with other major high-end cost expenditures to keep the house safe and standing.

We have a lead safety program as lead poisoning for children is a big issue here in Utica. Other issues that homeowners may be experiencing that can cause sickness is mold in the house, so we look at that as well. When unsure if water damage is present, it is always best to hire trusted water damage experts to take a look. Many times, water damage is not immediately apparent and can get worse over time if not addressed quickly and correctly. Address any potential water damage as soon as possible to avoid further issues.

The recipient must meet certain income standards to receive these services.

For first-time home buyers we have what is called a down payment and rehab grant. You get a certain amount of down payment based upon the buyer’s income level. Once the home is purchased, we as an agency come in to make sure the house meets housing quality standards and assist with needed repairs if needed.

Q: Do these kinds of problems you mentioned —homes that are decaying structurally, high levels of mold and or lead paint dust — happen just in our area or is this much more widespread?
A: We are not an anomaly here in Oneida County. In fact, we see these kinds of problems in homes in small cities all across the United States.

Q: How do your services affect the well-being and health of your clientele?
A: So, for first time home buyers, who wouldn’t want to come home to a place that they actually owned? Having a safe, secure, and healthy home is so important to the overall health of anyone. For existing homeowners, for example, we are doing radon testing; we are testing for lead paint [dust] so we can then implement Lifetime Radon Solutions. By offering these services and remedies we are making the occupants much healthier.

Q: How many homes on average do you “clean up” and rehab so the occupants are safe and not exposed to hazardous situations that could cause severe health issues?
A: Around 40-60 homes per year.

Q: What do you see in regards of your organization in the next three years?
A: Certainly, I see us growing our capacity in helping first-time buyers of homes as well as continuing to assist current homeowners. I also see us as a team, (and I have a phenomenal team) increasing the number of homes available in Oneida County for purchase.

Q: How long have you been the CEO of Home Ownership Center?
A: This past January it has been six years.

Q: What other work experiences did you have before you became the CEO of HOC?
A: For two years prior to my current position, I was chief operating officer for HOC. I also have a banking background where I was a marketing director for a couple of local financial institutions for about 13 years.

Q: What is your educational background?
A: I have an Associate of Science degree in computer information systems, and a Bachelor of Science degree in communications and marketing. While in the banking profession I received my CFMP, (certified financial marketing professional) certification from American Banking Association School of Banking.

Q: How many staff do you have?
A: Presently we have 14 staff.

Q: What is your annual operational budget?
A: $2.5 million.

Q: Where does HOC receive its funding?
A: We have a mixture of funds through the government; we receive funding from both the state and federal level, as well as local city funding. We also have private grant funding through private foundations.

Locally we have received financial support from the Herkimer-Oneida Community Foundation. We are also fortunate to have received support from a number of banking institutions, M&T Bank, Berkshire Bank, MBT, Bank of Utica, Adirondack Bank, and Bank of America.

The HomeOwnershipCenter is located at 1611 Genesee St., Utica. Their web site is unhs.org Phone: 315-724-4197.