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CALUMET CITY -- Calumet City is hoping to increase participation in a partnership with Neighborhoods Inc.

Fifth Ward Alderman Gerald Tarka, who serves as chairman of the Finance Committee, said he met with Neighborhoods Inc. Executive Director Keith Speaks on Jan. 30 regarding the city's desire for, "a greater degree of collaboration between Neighborhoods Inc. and Calumet City."

Neighborhoods Inc. is a nonprofit community development organization serving Calumet City, Hammond and Whiting. The group works to strengthen communities through a variety of programs, including assisting residents in specific target areas with efforts to increase their property values.

Calumet City began its partnership with Neighborhoods Inc. in 2001, paying the organization $5,000 per year.

Among the ideas proposed for new collaborations between Calumet City and Neighborhoods Inc. are a Healthy Neighborhoods lending program, a "Best House on the Block" contest and administering some state and federal housing loan programs.

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Speaks said his group worked with Hammond for a "Best House on the Block" contest last year and received 71 entries. Two entries received loans from the organization for home improvements, but the others, he said, took out loans from local banks for the work, boosting local business while improving their properties.

"Our goal is home improvement," Speaks said. "We spent about $11,000 and got $250,000 in home improvements in the city. It was a tremendous success. Other communities across the country contacted us asking about it."

Neighborhoods Inc. currently administers a Healthy Neighborhoods lending program in Hammond that allows for exterior rehabilitation loans for owner-occupied properties. The 5-year-old program has proven successful there, Speaks said, and could translate nicely in Calumet City.

The group may also look into administering HOME grants, the largest federal block grant programs provided to state and local governments designed to create affordable housing for low-income households. According to HUD, the grants are often used in partnership with local nonprofit groups to fund a wide range of activities aimed at building, buying and or rehabilitating affordable housing for rent or homeownership. The programs also can provide direct rental assistance to low-income individuals.

Lauri Harvey can be reached at lharvey@nwitimes.com or (219) 933-4169.

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