“Not just survive, but thrive,” is the motto of the Better Housing Coalition, or BHC, according to Greta Harris, president and CEO.
BHC (Neighborworks network organization), the largest nonprofit community development corporation in the Richmond region, creates high-quality homes for residents of modest means and empowers the community with programs and tools to help individuals reach their fullest employment potential. BHC has been in existence for more than 30 years.
The community served by BHC was disproportionately impacted by the constraints and pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. A historic deficit of affordable housing inventory, a decrease in an already low apartment vacancy rate (a drop from 5.1% to 2.7% through last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures) and the bleak employment picture created a dire situation in the area that BHC has stepped up to improve.
For the past five years NeighborWorks, as well as other funding organizations, have assisted BHC in building its organizational muscle allowing investments in technology, developing strong policies and procedures and investing in training for staff and leadership. This investment helped BHC to be well-positioned for the hard times of the pandemic. These investments included cloud-based platforms and appropriate hardware for employee/associates making the pivot to remote work easier and thereby continuing to serve its audience of more than 2,700 workforce clients and an additional 1,000 seniors.
During this time, BHC maintained a 90% contact rate with its clients, identifying more than 300 lost jobs. The organization raised just under a million dollars of additional rental assistance, which included assistance from NeighborWorks, and developed a partnership with Reynolds College that helped them curate a dozen certificate programs in health, IT and several trades. The funds helped pay for tuition, Wi-Fi, laptops and living expenses for participating students.
“These programs are not just helpful, they are positively life-altering for our clients,” says Harris.
In addition, BHC created 1600 rental units in central Virginia, the most productive year it has had in real estate to date. It has also built and sold 230 affordable units in central Virginia, partly due to NeighborWorks investments.
BHC assists its clients, including those like Starr Reynolds, the 43-year-old mother of two school-age children who have been homeless since last November. After sleeping in their car for two weeks, they moved into a South Richmond motel functioning as an emergency shelter with the assistance of BHC.
Reynolds, who also lost her job and receives social security and unemployment insurance, estimates she has contacted 50 to 60 properties but has not been able to secure a place she can afford. But she credits BHC with helping her with her permanent housing search and providing her family with the temporary housing at the motel.
The Partnership for Housing Affordability estimates the Richmond region alone must grow its affordable housing stock by 1,000 units annually to meet the projected need by 2040. BHC will continue to provide assistance for those families whose housing needs outstrip the supply.