Better Housing Coalition (BHC) is a nonprofit community development corporation committed to advancing social and racial justice through the creation of quality places to live for modest income families.

Over the years, they’ve served over 15,000 households and invested about a quarter of a billion dollars into home ownership and rental development in the Richmond region. In addition to a focus on mission, the tools and programs they provide residents to help them be their best selves separate them from other housing developers. Their motivation is about more than real estate – it’s a drive to uplift families and communities.

A Partnership with VCC

Our relationship with BHC and its president and CEO, Greta Harris, started early in our history, and it has always been more than a business deal. Greta and VCC president and CEO Jane Henderson knew each other even before they sat in their current seats, and they’ve always shared the value of supporting the contributions and dreams of Virginia’s economically excluded communities. It’s been a partnership characterized by innovation and an excitement to see what can be done together.

In 2017, that energy drove VCC’s Director of Investor Relations, Caroline Nowery, to approach BHC about filing a joint application for a Capital Magnet award, similar to significant funding that VCC had used to support affordable housing the year prior. We realized the award would enable both organizations to utilize grant funding combined with low-cost lending to help meet the gap that many affordable housing projects need, especially those driven by nonprofit developers. When we found out we received the award, we were overjoyed to work with Greta and her organization to maximize its impact. Despite a tight timetable requiring all funds to be dispersed within three years, we were able to leverage a million dollars of grant funding into nearly $7 million of financing for BHC projects.

One example of how this funding made a difference will be seen in a Jackson Ward property called Cameo, a 67-unit multifamily development deal that will close by the end of 2021. With the funds unlocked by the Capital Magnet award, BHC was able to purchase the land, and they will be able to construct quality, affordable housing, and bring other support services to the community. And, because the debt financing from VCC was kept to 25% of the capital stack, BHC has been able to ensure affordable rent for Cameo’s residents.

Cameo House Development sized
Cameo House Development

What’s Next

Among the many impacts of the coronavirus pandemic is the increased expense of developing housing. The costs of land, utility hookups, labor, and materials are escalating at unbelievable rates all over the country. In addition to the financial ramifications of the health crisis, the social and systemic inequities that existed before the virus have only grown greater. Those issues combined make trying to support the aspirations of our communities tougher and tougher. Meeting the challenge in front of us requires innovative partnerships and financing models – much like what BHC and VCC have accomplished together.

Greta Harris shares, “My vision, my hope for affordable housing is quite simple. It’s just that every family, regardless of their race, regardless of their socioeconomic status, has the opportunity to be their best selves. That’s all. That doesn’t sound like it directly ties to affordable housing, but it goes back to this: If you have a safe, quality place to call home, that’s your foundation. That’s where people can start their journeys to realizing their dreams.”

Increasing access to affordable housing isn’t a quick fix problem. For VCC and our partners, it will mean being bold and reimagining how project funding and capital stacks might look. It will mean doing things that probably haven’t been done before, at a scale that hasn’t be presented before. That’s where strong relationships make the difference. It can be intimidating to navigate uncharted waters alone, but as we’ve always believed, we can do more, together.

Will you join us?