Explaining the ORA program

The Oswego Renaissance Association (ORA) held an informational meeting recently for city residents who are interested in improving their properties with ORA block challenge grants. These grants encourage neighbors to work together to make exterior improvements and revitalize the neighborhoods. Steve Phillips (pictured), co-founder of the ORA, explains the program to those in attendance at the meeting.

OSWEGO — Steve Phillips, co-founder of the Oswego Renaissance Association (ORA), hosted an informational meeting recently at the Church of the Resurrection on West Fifth Street in Oswego.

The meeting covered block challenge grants, which encourage groups of neighbors to work together to make exterior improvements to their properties to begin revitalizing Oswego’s neighborhoods and inspiring others to reinvest in their blocks, according to Phillips.

Participating property owners in a designated Renaissance Block are eligible for matching funds — a dollar-for-dollar match, up to $1,000, for exterior improvements, for each property owner. This is a matching grant. If $500 is spent, for example, a $250 match will be made. If $2,000 or more is spent, the match is $1,000, according to the ORA website.

The grant application process is competitive. Phillips said every year, except for the first year, he and co-director Paul Stewart have reviewed more applications than they have money for.

“The reality is that not everybody wins an award,” Phillips said. “When I say the application is competitive, there are things you can do to make it more competitive.”

Phillips shared with the approximately 20 people in attendance the following tips and tricks for beautifying your property and vying for a better chance at winning a block challenge grant.

“We don’t reimburse the removal or trees or other greenery on your property,” Phillips told the interested guests. “The reason we don’t pay for the removal or trees is because we have studies that show every tree adds $4,000 value to your property.”

He said there may be cases in which it is opportune to cut down trees, in the vast majority, it’s favorable to keep them up.

Sidewalk improvements also go a long way to improve a neighborhood’s look and require neighboring homeowners to pitch in.

However, Stewart said the goal of ORA’s community organization is not just to raise property values of homes, so that sellers can make a big bang for their buck; he said ORA’s goal is to foster a sense of community renewal.

The more community togetherness fostered at a house, Phillips said, “the better (your application) is.”

He added that houses in closer proximity together to each other have a better chance of being awarded funds because the homeowners can collectively work on improving their block as a common cause.

The deadline for pre-applications for Block Challenge Grants is April 1.

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