Joan Carty has served as executive director of the Housing Development Fund in Stamford for 14 years.

The Housing Development Fund, a nonprofit bank that provides funding for affordable housing and offers a variety of homebuyer assistance programs in southeastern Connecticut, recently reached a milestone with its 500th first-time homebuyer. For Executive Director Joan Carty, that achievement is one of many to come as the fund expands and strengthens.

Carty came to HDF in January 1994 and the path that led her there was unique. She began her higher education at the College of New Rochelle in New York and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1973 as an art major. After receiving her diploma, Carty took a position teaching art at Fordham University in New York City. During her time at Fordham, Carty was recruited by the Peace Corps and subsequently spent two years in El Salvador developing vocational arts programs. Carty gives the experience credit for getting her involved with the field of affordable housing and public affairs.

“I loved the work that I did [in El Salvador] even though it was a very volatile and dangerous environment,” Carty said. “I loved [being able to] affect the community by changing and improving it.”

Upon her return to the United States, Carty made the decision to return to school. She enrolled at Hunter College at the City University of New York and earned a master’s degree in urban affairs in 1981. “While getting my master’s, I met people who were studying for law degrees and it seemed to make sense for what I wanted to do. I finished my master’s, then went to law school at Fordham University School of Law. It just seemed like a really good complement to the kind of work I wanted to do,” she said.

While studying law, Carty spent some time working as a volunteer for housing-related issues – and affordable housing in particular – in her hometown neighborhood of the Bronx. “I was learning about the processes and the challenges [you face in the field],” she said. “I got to see the tangible results while working with that kind of neighborhood doing revitalization work.” She earned a Juris Doctor degree in 1984.

After earning her law degree, Carty got married and moved to Bridgeport with her husband in 1985. Carty devoted herself to community-based lending and the development of affordable housing for the Bridgeport Neighborhood Fund. That organization was very similar to HDF, where Carty took over as executive director following her stint in Bridgeport.

“I came down [to HDF] 14 years ago and have been able to grow HDF with a collective effort of excellent staff and an excellent board of directors,” said Carty. “We’ve added programs and [have] grown – programs like the First Time Homebuyers Program, which started off just serving multifamily homes, is now able to finance single-families also.”

Still Growing

The Housing Development Fund was founded in 1989 as the Stamford Development Fund; its name was changed in 2003. HDF is a unique nonprofit bank that advocates and facilitates the development of more affordable housing units and encourages homeownership through a variety of initiatives. The fund has an annual budget of approximately $1.5 million.

“We’re a nonprofit bank; we earn almost 90 percent of our income through fees and spread income. We raise the other 10 percent through contributions,” said Carty.

HDF works by financing affordable units – from both public and private resources – and educating prospective homeowners. In addition to the First Time Homebuyers Program, which gives new homeowners down-payment and closing-cost assistance while also providing education and counseling, HDF offers the SmartMove homeownership program, which gives homeowners low-interest second mortgages for up to 20 percent of the purchase price. An array of programs relating to successful homeownership and landlord education are offered, as well many counseling programs.

“The number of programs and number of our partners just keeps on growing,” said Carty. “We are always looking for any ways to increase the flow and coordination of resources. We want people to be able to come here and have everything consolidated to help the family and make the process as easy as possible.”

Current HDF partners include 17 private banks; the housing authorities in Stamford, Danbury and Greenwich; governmental agencies including the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, Department of Economic and Community Development and the American Dream Downpayment Initiative; private developers; and other nonprofit agencies.

The fund recently welcomed a Fairfield County family, originally from Syria, as its 500th buyer through the First Time Homebuyers Program. The organization worked with the town of Fairfield to provide one-on-one counseling and CHFA-approved homebuyer education classes to find a qualified family. The Bostati family met all the criteria and moved into their 1,200-square-foot ranch-style home that was once owned by the Navy. “The family has to be income-eligible Â… grants and loans are available depending on the situation, [as well as] counseling to tell them about things. Each [case] is custom-fit to each family,” said Carty.

The education and counseling process at HDF is very important to the success of the organization. “We have a very efficient in-take process. We have five English and Spanish group orientations a week for up to 15 people at a time. We ask people to bring copies of their tax returns and pay stubs so we have the information needed to assess their readiness [for homeownership] after the orientation,” said Carty. The orientation gives an overview of home counseling and information on the buying process and the different types of loans and grants that are available. “This too is a really customized process,” noted Carty.

The “readiness” of clients that Carty describes is a vital aspect of the counseling process. A family has to be 100 percent ready to purchase their own home and be ready to make the life-changing commitment.

“If the family is not ready, we give them an action plan to help them. We’ve had people work on their action plan for three, five, seven years and then come back and be ready to buy a unit,” said Carty.

HDF’s Web site can be found at