Nonprofit's assistance salvages Middletown family's property and prospects

MIDDLETOWN – In rapid succession, a series of calamities seemed to push David and Susan Santacroce and their family to the brink of a deep financial chasm.

The problems centered on a 90-year-old Grand Street house that Santacroce and his wife, Susan, inherited from her family.

Santacroce, 69, is a 35-year certified general appraiser who manages Santacroce Associates LLC. He and his wife owned the house as a legacy from Susan's Sicilian-immigrant grandparents. They and their children also lived there at times, renting out parts of the house to others.

David, Susan and their daughter eventually moved out and the 3,100-square-foot structure demanded considerably more attention to become an income-producing rental property. The Santacroces subsequently put several thousand dollars and their own labor into the effort.

“In the course of the renovation, we were burgled three times over a period of a few days,” Santacroce said. “The house was vandalized on the interior, the copper was ripped out, along with the plumbing in the basement and the third floor.” The damage amounted to about $40,000.

This was a calamity for the Santacroces, who have two grown children – David and Christine – as well as three grandchildren, all of whom were born in the Grand Street house. The couple have a vested interest in the neighborhood, as their own home is two blocks from the rental property and their daughter lives across the street from them.

Developing the rental property for the family's future income had been an ongoing family project, with labor also being contributed by their son-in-law and nephew.

“I want them to have the same connection,” Santacroce said. “Where you live is the most important thing. That’s where everything starts. It’s you that gets out of bed and starts the day. That’s where it all begins.”

However, the shocking property damage and looming cost of re-doing their earlier renovations did make getting out of bed each day awfully tough.

“We were compelled to go to a hard-money lender, and we acquired a one-year construction mortgage,” Santacroce said. “That would have compelled us to pay off totally at the end, or sell the house. So, we were facing having to put the house on the market.”

That prospect of selling his wife's family property was emotionally devastating, he said.

“We did not feel that it was ours to lose,” Santacroce said. “My wife’s grandmother bought this house when it was under construction prior to the Depression. … After six or seven generations we could not walk away from this.”

There was an even more personal connection because of the loving relationship between David and Susan.

“I met her in Boston in and she invited me down to meet her mother,” David said. “I stopped here in the north end of Middletown – and I never left.”

After marriage, Santacroce plunged in willingly to help her family maintain the house for more than four decades until it became their own inheritance. He knows every inch and surface intimately. Through proper maintenance, the house could support the Santacroces' descendants well into the future – and that knowledge fueled their quest for a solution.

“We don’t know how to give up,” Santacroce said. “Nobody before me ever has. I tell my grandson that all of our forebears got up every day for many days and said, 'I just can’t take this' — but they did. And we’re here because they did. So I can’t quit. It’s just not in our makeup.”

As bills mounted for taxes and utilities, foreclosure loomed and unexpected medical expenses cropped up, Santacroce hoped an Internet search engine might yield an undiscovered option. Fortune smiled with a link to Wallingford-based Capital for Change Inc. (C4C), Connecticut's largest full-service community development financial institution.

The nonprofit organization draws investments from individuals, federal and state sources, banks, investment firms and faith-based and civic groups because it offers an effective way to help neighbors and communities in need – and Santacroce was certainly in need.

Santacroce met with Matthew Liebel, an underwriter with Capital for Change's commercial lending division, and Geoffrey Person, a C4C loan officer. After their conversation, the situation didn't seem quite so dire.

Liebel had immediately recognized that the Santacroces had a deep attachment to the property and a strong desire to keep it family-owned.

“Originally, we approached it as an affordable-housing situation,” Liebel said. “We looked at the property and were encouraged by the condition. We saw an opportunity to provide low-cost capital to do additional work, such as painting and a new roof.

“As the process went along, we learned this wasn't going to be a traditional transaction,” Liebel said. “We began to evaluate David's character and the obvious hard work he had done himself to retain this property. So, we approached the situation as though we were trying to give these people their lives back.”

A new 20-year permanent loan was arranged and the Santacroces' financial security today has been restored. The family retains clear ownership of its properties and no longer is at risk of foreclosure, Liebel said.

Renovation work on the Grand Street property has gone forward, including a reframed front elevation, 40 new windows, upgraded wiring and circuit breakers, interior and exterior doors, heating, plumbing, ceilings and floors. The house is expected to be ready to rent out by autumn, Santacroce said.

“This is the kind of result that gives tremendous value to the work we do and it's experiences like this that make me want to stay in this industry,” Liebel said. “We are doing good work, and each time I speak with David, it's a great experience to see how special this process has been in being able to protect his family and their lives.”

“I’m absolutely stunned,” said a relieved Santacroce, whose own praise for the staff of Capital for Change is unrestrained.

“Their actions are more like old-style banking, when the banker literally would come to your house and look at it, and say, 'Well, I knew your dad,'” he said. “In the old days, that aspect of credit-worthiness was a valid measure.”

Santacroce especially values that aspect of trust because he's a firm believer in individual responsibility and taking an active role in maintaining – and improving – a community’s quality of life at the neighborhood level.

“Middletown is full of people who need this kind of help,” Santacroce said. “The people at C4C are making a commitment to their beliefs in community development and community development and preservation.”

“This is just one example of the type of positive, family-supporting outcome for which Capital for Change was created,” said Calvin B. Vinal, president and CEO of the organization.

“Our mission is to find ways to create economic opportunities and strengthen low-wealth communities, often on a person-by-person basis,” Vinal said. “It's very satisfying to be able to help people such as the Santacroces restore their chances for better lives.”

Those interested in learning more about Capital for Change's loan opportunities may contact Liebel at (860) 303-3221 or mliebel@capitalforchange.org.

In the past four years, Capital for Change loans have permitted more than 1,000 housing units to be created or maintained, and sustained more than 10,000 units of affordable home ownership, while helping to create more than 750 jobs and providing homebuyer training and foreclosure counseling to 1,000 families.

Additional information is available online at CapitalForChange.org and the organization's Facebook page, “Capital for Change, Inc.”

Capital for Change's mission is to provide flexible, creative and responsive financial products and services to benefit low- and moderate-income persons, and minority and otherwise underserved individuals, businesses and communities. Its programs and products broaden access to affordable housing, energy efficiency and job opportunities.

Capital for Change Inc. was created in 2016 through the mergers of the Community Capital Fund, Connecticut Housing Investment Fund and the Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund, shaping an organization with a statewide history of service stretching back to 1968. Serving Connecticut for more than 50 years, C4C has invested more than $425 million in mission-driven capital statewide.

Recently rescued from the brink of a huge financial and sentimental loss, David Santacroce of Middletown stands amid improvements made recently to the Grand Street house he and his family have owned and maintained for more than four decades – and which they'll continue to own because of assistance from Wallingford-based nonprofit Capital for Change Inc.

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