Quick question: what is one investment that will reduce intergenerational poverty and increase economic mobility? Answer: affordable housing. Without affordable housing, millions of Americans across the U.S. struggle to pay their rent or find reasonably priced places to live.
In Virginia, a shortage of almost 150,000 affordable rental units is exacerbating demand. In 2019, 70% of extremely low-income renters paid more than half of their income on rent. Even before COVID-19, which affected many people’s ability to pay rent on time, Richmond had one of the highest eviction rates in the country.
Research shows that increasing access to affordable housing in the U.S. is the most cost-effective strategy for keeping children out of poverty and improving economic opportunity. While homelessness and housing affordability is a complicated and daunting issue, there are many organizations working to increase access to housing, whether by protecting the rights of renters, offering service programs for residents or building physical homes. We’ve rounded up four nonprofits that are increasing access to stable and equitable housing and working to end homelessness in Central Virginia.
Virginia Supportive Housing
Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH) is Virginia’s largest supportive housing organization. It manages more than 650 housing units in 17 communities and serves hundreds of additional clients in permanent housing with private landlords. VSH embraces a “Housing First” strategy, which emphasizes access to stable housing above all other needs. Many other “Housing Ready” programs require sobriety or enrollment in treatment programs before clients can access permanent housing, which creates barriers to ending homelessness.
VSH’s approach to housing and supportive services helps tenants stay housed and address the conditions that cause homelessness, leading to success in other areas of their lives. In fact, more than 97% of its residents do not return to homelessness, with average incomes increasing by 127% within one year of becoming permanently housed.
Virginia Poverty Law Center
Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC) is committed to breaking down systemic barriers that keep low-income Virginians in the cycle of poverty through advocacy, education and litigation. VPLC advocates for legislation that benefits low-income Virginians and provides training to legal aid organizations. Its housing work focuses on the rights of renters, low-income homeowners and housing access. Unfortunately, low-income renters are susceptible to exploitation and may not know that they have options. The VPLC works to help renters know what they can do when it comes to their landlords and avoid potential problems before they get out of hand.
Currently, VPLC is laying the groundwork for a new pilot program that aims to close the homeownership gap. The initiative would provide down-payment assistance to households that can demonstrate that they, or their relatives, suffered financial consequences because of unjust housing and zoning policies that have disproportionately impacted Black households, resulting in substantial wealth gaps.
Better Housing Coalition
Better Housing Coalition (BHC) has revitalized several historic communities and developed new ones in Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico and Petersburg. Its portfolio includes 15 multi-family rental communities, 1,500 rental units and 200 new or renovated single-family homes sold to first-time homebuyers. BHC uses a mixed-income, mixed-use model which means they can create new housing opportunities in areas previously allowed only for commercial use and rent to residents of lower incomes. This helps to revitalize distressed neighborhoods by creating a sense of community and safety.
BHC knows that transforming a community takes time. It offers free and voluntary services for residents that include academic and cultural programs, financial and career development services, early childhood and parent education, mental health support and other services that help families and individuals succeed.
HomeAgain helps families and individuals experiencing homelessness secure and maintain a home in the Greater Richmond area. In 2019, HomeAgain served 768 individuals across 540 households including men, women, children and veterans. HomeAgain offers a variety of programs including emergency shelters, bridge housing, rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing. It also provides financial assistance and case management to transition individuals and families from homelessness to stable housing.
Despite the layered complexities of homelessness, finding long-term solutions starts with affordable housing, irrespective to the different approaches of these four organizations. And securing housing does more than improve the lives of those moving in, housing solutions also help communities reduce the costs of temporary shelters, feeding programs, emergency rooms, jails and other public resources.