Setting the Proverbial Table

Convening, Collaborating and Constructing the Proverbial “Table” to Create Jobs

The Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance. The National Housing Council. The National Alliance to End Homelessness.  As the names reflect, those of us in the affordable housing and homelessness arena recognize that no single organization has all the solutions or the tools to address these seemingly intractable social problems, so stakeholders must collaborate. All of us must gather around the proverbial table.

Yet despite the need for a cooperative approach, social dynamics and economic jurisdictional dynamics often serve as obstacles to progress and shared best practices.

Convening around a Collaborative Table

To proactively address local trends and the varied jurisdictional resources and approaches, we’ve created a unique “table” to gather around: our Annual HomeAid Northern Virginia Housing Forum. The Forum brings local nonprofit organizations that provide housing and supportive services together with government agencies, foundations, corporate partners, and more.  Participants range from executive directors to case managers to government officials. It is a community of practitioners – not a think tank, but the actual staff and leadership of organizations on the front lines, doing the day-to-day work of serving our local homeless community.  The Forum gives all of these stakeholders the platform for boundary-free dialogue to benefit from each participant’s real-world experiences and to stay current with shifts in policy and priorities that impact our local landscape.

Housing Forum photo

The Forum’s convener and organizer is HomeAid Northern Virginia, the charitable arm of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association. While the work of the homebuilding industry and homelessness service providers don’t seem immediately to go hand in hand, HomeAid is changing that paradigm across the country.  HomeAid chapters build and renovate homeless shelters and housing facilities via the donated expertise, labor and resources of homebuilders and trade partners (suppliers, subcontractors, etc.). HomeAid projects provide significant cost savings to shelters, freeing up a provider’s scarce financial resources for programs and services rather than building expenses. Now entering our 15th year, HomeAid Northern Virginia has completed 107 projects valued at more than $13.6 million, more than half of which was donated. As a result, approximately $7.7 million in cost savings was passed along to shelter organizations.

HomeAid Loudoun Shelter renovated kitchen2-AFTER

The Housing Forum helps HomeAid better understand and meet the evolving needs of the organizations we serve, but more than that, it provides an opportunity for communal brainstorming to devise solutions for unmet needs, and to carry them forward from concept to implementation.

Creating Jobs for Formerly Homeless Persons

We recently launched a pilot program that was a direct outgrowth of conversations at past years’ forums: a new job skills training program that engages clients at the organizations we serve in the building/construction trade.  Follow-up steps included detailed conversations with participating homebuilding trade businesses to understand the skills needed, and the supportive job skills that human service organizations could provide.

Today, thanks to collaborative work with Northern Virginia Family Services and Cornerstones and local homebuilder trades TAC Tile Company, Buhl Electric, and Home Team Pest Defense, formerly homeless individuals are placed in jobs in the homebuilding industry and provided the support they need in the areas of transportation, childcare, financial management and more.

The idea “seed” at the Housing Forum table took root and created new programming that offers a win-win for all parties: the homebuilding industry addresses the gap of skilled, reliable workers in the construction industry; homelessness service providers bolster the availability and success of their workforce development programs; and most importantly, individuals seeking gainful employment as a pathway to self-sufficiency begin to rebuild their lives with better tools at their disposal, including marketable job skills, stable employment and housing. It is a pilot that we will grow and expand over the years ahead.

We expect more ideas and opportunity for collaborative action at this year’s upcoming Housing Forum on Thursday, April 7th in Fairfax, VA.  Learn more about HomeAid and our 2016 Annual Housing Forum program. 

 Christy Eaton is the Executive Director of HomeAid Northern Virginia. Funding for the Housing Forum is provided by the Virginia Housing Development Authority and Bank of America.