OSSINING, N.Y. -- Karen D’Attore has learned a lot in her two-plus years Executive Director of the Ossining-based Interfaith Council for Action, Inc. also known as IFCA Housing Network. She might not ever hang sheetrock, install a dishwasher or rip up a floor in disrepair, but she’s seen it done time and again in her position.
“I’m lucky, I’ve surrounded myself with people who are experts in the things I am not,’’ said D’Attore, who also lives in Ossining. “My expertise is in nonprofit management and strategic development. But there are a lot of things I’ve learned about construction and property management since I’ve been here. It’s been great to understand these things and has been helpful in my own home repairs.”
Perhaps more importantly, D’Attore has learned how the lack of affordable housing impacts low and moderate income people. IFCA owns and manages affordable apartments in Ossining and Tarrytown. IFCA is also a pioneer in the development of transitional housing for the homeless, and maintains 16 units through Westchester County’s Emergency Housing Apartment Program. In all, Karen is responsible for the management and oversight of 87 housing units that serve approximately 150 tenants.
IFCA was established in 1968 as a community response to racial tension following the assassination of Martin Luther King. It provided job training, self-empowerment and community engagement programs to help heal racial tensions.
The agency’s core mission evolved into providing affording housing. It owns 13 buildings in the Village of Ossining and one in Tarrytown, comprising 84 units. Each property is unique, and IFCA offers studios, and 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments.
The average age of the properties, is 90 years old. Many of them are in charming homes, but require significant upgrades in heating, plumbing and electrical fixtures to conform to current health and safety codes.
“One of my first goals was to make sure we stabilize our existing property portfolio,’’ D’Attore said. “Old homes come with a myriad of issues and require a lot of love and care. We had to do some significant capital improvements.”
D’Attore and her team needed to hold down costs, and find the money to make the repairs. As a non-profit, funds are hard to find in a struggling economy.
“We were able to leverage and refinance on some of our existing properties to make the improvements without increasing our debt service,’’ D’Attore said. “We were able to put more than $1 million into our buildings. We were lucky to augment our resources with private and public funding. We had support from our local legislators and New York State Homes and Community Renewal (NYSHCR) programs.”
Now, D’Attore and IFCA are seeking to expand. Westchester County’s exorbitant property values make it challenging to purchase new homes, but there is a critical need for affordable housing in the region.
“We’re looking to acquire one building right now and are looking at several others,’’ D’Attore said. “If we’re going to have a thriving community, we have to look at all of the factors that support that. Affordable housing is a cornerstone of that. Without that, you end up with a lot of issues. Overcrowding. Slum lords. That’s all from a lack of affordability. By providing affordable housing, you’re providing an economic boost to the community.”
One of the focuses for IFCA in its home renovation is maximizing energy efficiency, especially with new technologies. “Some have new boilers, and we’ve put in better insulation,’’ D’Attore said. “Inefficient heating really drives up the cost. We assume the cost of heating in most of our buildings, and it’s one of the things we can do to preserve affordability. Energy efficiency is an important factor.”
D’Attore has held a variety of positions over the past 15 years, mostly in the humanitarian realm.
Prior to joining IFCA, D’Attore was Principal of KDT Associates, a consulting firm she founded that provided strategic planning, organizational management, brand marketing, fundraising and development services to numerous nonprofit and for-profit clients.
“I started my career in in advertising and communications,’’ D’Attore said. “Then I moved over to the non-profit side and gained experience fundraising, development and private-public partnerships. This was sort of bringing it all home and applying those skills to a real world situation.”
At the end of the day, D’Attore takes pride in helping Westchester County residents find affordable, safe living spaces and feels honored to have the opportunity.
“I recognize my role is in helping to facilitate voices in the community to be heard so that everybody has input into make the community better,’’ she said. “To facilitate that is a great honor.”
For more information about the IFCA, click here to visit its website.