A venerable nonprofit housing developer in western Massachusetts has announced a name change and plans for an expanded role in community development.
HAPHousing changed its name to Way Finders on Friday and announced that it will expand from a developer of affordable housing into other areas including small business financing.
" It is a very different entity and we felt we needed to send a new message," said Peter Gagliardi, president and CEO of the Springfield-based organization during an interview explaining the name change.
He also announced partnerships with MBL Housing and Development, an Amherst-based real estate consulting firm, and Common Capital, a Holyoke-based financial lending institution.
"I think that together we will be able to bring more capital to the region from outside and that is what you need to develop neighborhoods, create affordable housing and employment opportunities," Gagliardi said.
The organization now called Way Finders was founded more than 40 years ago to administer what was then a federally-funded pilot program providing rental vouchers to low-income people that became widely known as the Section 8 housing program.
Gagliardi said the newly-named organization will still administer housing-assistance programs, develop and oversee the construction of affordable housing, and provide a myriad of housing-related services including an education program for first-time homebuyers, and counseling for people facing foreclosure.
" A lot of that is going to be handled in the housing center ( 322 Main Street, Springfield) and we are going to have a virtual housing center on our website," said Gagliardi.
The nonprofit operates in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties.
The work done through the decades by HAPHousing has generally been applauded by affordable housing advocates, but has at times stirred controversy. The organization is currently embroiled in a dispute in the town of Ludlow over plans to build an apartment complex by invoking the state’s affordable housing law that allows developers to bypass local zoning rules.
Joan Straussman-Brandon, a vice president with Neighborworks America, a national network of more than 200 community development organizations, praised Friday’s announcement.
"We are finding nationally that the best way to really have impact with limited resources that collaborating with other organization is the way to go, rather than have a bunch of small organizations all over the place, each of them struggling," said Straussman-Brandon.
The announcement of the name change and new partnerships was made at the Wood Museum of Springfield History with an invited audience of elected officials, housing specialists, and heads of local nonprofits.