Thursday, May 7, 2015

Making a difference for the homeless through public-private partnerships

by Christy Eaton, HomeAid Northern Virginia

NHC invites guest writers to write on important housing topics. The views expressed by guest writers do not necessarily reflect those of NHC or its members.

There are more than 5,000 reported homeless individuals in Northern Virginia but only 1,065 shelter beds available. This means there are nearly 4,000 people who have been identified as not having a safe, stable place to live.

Christy Eaton
What the statistics don’t tell us is that a number of families and individuals in jeopardy of becoming homeless find themselves in this situation because they have lost a source of income, have credit problems or are fleeing domestic violence situations. Numbers alone don’t reflect the families and individuals who have doubled- or tripled-up and are living in one home, because they cannot afford housing; are behind on mortgage payments; or simply can’t afford basic necessities like rent, food and utilities.

As part of our efforts to change this harsh reality, members of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association (NVBIA) founded HomeAid Northern Virginia (HANV) in 2001 so that their members—primarily homebuilders and industry trade partners—could renovate and build housing for the homeless. HANV became one of HomeAid America’s 15 chapters, a leading national non-profit provider of housing for the homeless, and together, we are changing lives.

How do we accomplish such change? In short, partnerships. We believe that in order to create successful partnerships, we need to identify people and organizations with the skills, expertise, resources and vested interest in serving the homeless community. For us, that has meant fostering relationships with homebuilders and trade partners who have the unique skills to build and renovate housing—and who have a passion for giving back to the communities in which they work. We partner with service providers who are on the front lines of providing care, shelter and programming to the homeless, and who understand current housing trends and know what it takes to get people back on their feet. We stay in front of elected officials to keep them informed of our efforts, so that we can better pursue projects that will help their constituents.  

Our Board of Directors, for example, is made up of builders and trade partners, representatives from shelter organizations, bankers and attorneys who specialize in land use. We strive to provide best practices and always invest in materials and designs that will ensure longevity so that our backers and supporters know a HANV project is a solid investment.

Since 2001, our public-private partnerships have resulted in 96 projects valued at more than $12 million, serving more than 72,000 individuals.

One of those projects, completed in 2013, was a $900,000 renovation led by HANV and Builder Captain Pulte Homes. More than 30 homebuilders and trade partners rehabilitated 10 apartments at Community Lodgings in the City of Alexandria, and supporters included the executive director of the Freddie Mac Foundation and the City of Alexandria’s mayor and Council.

In another enormously successful public-private partnership, HANV completed a $250,000 renovation of an eight-unit transitional shelter with Loudoun County and Volunteers of America Chesapeake. The units are used by the Loudoun Transitional Housing Program as housing for homeless families and single women. Builder Captains Miller & Smith and Winchester Homes, along with 32 trade partners, helped the shelter realize an 87 percent savings on the cost of the renovation.

Our efforts are, of course, about more than housing. Because our builders and trade partners donate up to 100 percent of materials and labor for the projects, shelter providers can direct their own funding toward programs and services for clients, rather than on costly maintenance and construction projects. The services we provide also help area shelters care for more children at risk for homelessness and children already in shelters, almost half of whom are under the age of five. These projects also enhance the neighborhoods and communities where the individuals live, and the renovations make a positive impact on the outlook of residents.

Homelessness has been considered an insoluble social problem, but through our partnerships, we’re finding solutions. We recognize that our partners have the expertise, skills and talents uniquely suited to make a difference, and we’ve framed our partnership model around that knowledge. By actively looking for opportunities that will make it easy for our partners to give back and perform a public good—and by consistently providing them with valuable returns—we build a spirit of trust and feed a passion for supporting the community in ways that are giving thousands of homeless people a home and a second chance. 

Christy Eaton is executive director of HomeAid Northern Virginia. You can reach her at For more information about HomeAid Northern Virginia, visit

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