Finding a solution
Local trust offers funding for very low-income housing
When James Coles was attending college at the University of Utah, he started volunteering at a local homeless shelter, tutoring children there. In the nearly 20 years since, he’s found himself continuously driven to help those less fortunate. Finally, he’s in a position to really make a difference.
As director of the North Valley Housing Trust (NVHT), Coles is excited about new opportunities to create affordable places to live for local individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
“It costs the community much more to keep people homeless than to get them into subsidized housing,” Coles said during a recent interview at NVHT headquarters in the Chico Municipal Building. “We’re talking in terms of public safety, public health, incarceration … Not only is it the right thing to do, it also makes good public policy sense.”
NVHT is a fairly new endeavor. Born out of a work group created by the city in 2010—when Coles was the city’s housing manager—it has evolved to become what it is today, a housing trust fund. Last year, it started to fundraise in earnest and ultimately received a competitive $500,000 grant from the state, in addition to $650,000 in donations, many from local banks, generated through a partnership with 3CORE, a nonprofit economic development agency that operates in Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties. This year, NVHT created a board of directors and now it’s looking for people or organizations interested in putting that fundraising money to good use.
Today (April 16) at 10 a.m., NVHT is hosting a meeting for anyone interested in learning more about the organization or networking with potential partners. It’s announced a request for proposals from those interested in creating affordable housing that incorporates social support systems, like job training and counseling, that can help residents become self-sufficient.
“Proposals should include housing and a support network,” Coles said. “We’re looking for creative ideas in addressing this problem.”
Applicants could be from the nonprofit or for-profit realm and might even be a partnership among more than one entity, Coles said. “You could have a builder who has building experience, who teams up with a nonprofit who can offer services.” NVHT is looking to award up to $1.15 million to the best proposal—or proposals—with the decision announced in August so groundbreaking can begin in 2016.
“We’re starting small, but we plan on being here in the long-term,” Coles said, adding that “We’re strictly funders—the applicant will be responsible for implementation of the program.”
He looked to organizations like the Esplanade House, which offers housing for low-income and at-risk families along with services such as peer support groups, help with finding jobs and counseling, as a great model.
“But we’re not seeking to duplicate services that are already here,” Coles said. “We hope to extend their reach so we can reach more people.”
Looking outside of Chico, he said, there are other communities whose housing trust funds have proven their worth. In San Luis Obispo County, for example, the housing trust fund has created 218 affordable homes in its 15 years in existence. In 2012, the Redding Housing Trust Fund provided the finances to transform a 60-unit apartment building into affordable housing for very low-income seniors.
“All communities are grappling with this issue,” Coles said. “It’s not unique to Chico. The midsize rural areas are facing more of a challenge with homelessness than very small towns or even larger urban centers.
“We all know there’s a problem—now we’re looking to provide a solution and a model, a foundation to build on.”