Tell us about yourself.
My name is Matt Morgan, I am the Deputy Director of Neighborhood Revitalization at project:HOMES. I started as an intern at project:HOMES about five years ago, and have held a variety of positions at the organization.
In my current role, I manage the rehabilitation section of our Neighborhood Revitalization program, where we provide critical home repairs to low-income families in Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield, Petersburg, Hopewell, Colonial Heights, and Norfolk.
Our project managers assess the needs of a homeowner, ensuring that the home is safe, warm, and dry. I also work on pre-development and closings for the real estate side of our department, where we build up to 25 homes a year which are sold to low-income families. I graduated from VCU in 2012 with a Bachelor’s in History, and got a Master’s Degree in Urban and Environmental Planning from UVA in 2014.
What is the focus of your work?
We are celebrating our 25th year of improving lives by improving homes in the Richmond region. We try to have the largest possible impact on every household we serve by coupling home repairs, energy efficiency, and making homes more accessible.
My department focuses on neighborhood revitalization through the production and preservation of affordable housing. We produce up to 25 homes a year which are then sold to low-income first-time homebuyers. And the preservation of affordable housing comes by ensuring that existing low-income homeowners have homes that are dry, warm, and safe.
People often come to project:HOMES because their roof is leaking, or they have no air conditioning, so we are able to fix their roof, or provide them with cooling assistance through our Keep RVA Cool! initiative every summer. But, what we often find when we get to someone’s home, is that they also need insulation, or a wheelchair ramp to even access their home. Because project:HOMES can provide so many services, that same homeowner who came to us because her roof was leaking can have better access to her home, can see a significant reduction in his or her heating and cooling expenses, and can feel more comfortable and safe in their home.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Two of the key components of affordable housing are availability and accessibility. We spend a lot of time thinking about making sure there is an adequate supply of affordable housing, but what we often don’t think about is the accessibility side.
A low-income person who qualifies for a mortgage can find a home somewhere that meets what he or she can afford. However, there are not a lot of options for someone looking for a high-quality, energy efficient home in a growing neighborhood like Church Hill or Carver. Our homes have high-quality finishes, upgraded appliances, are energy efficient, and are always designed to fit the historic character of the neighborhoods we serve. Our model for affordable housing really challenges the standard for what defines an affordable home. There is nothing more rewarding than when we are able to provide just as high quality of a home, sold to a low-income buyer, as the market rate house next door.
I also find it incredibly rewarding to serve the members of our community with needed repairs to stay in their homes. A lot of people don’t recognize how important home repairs related to health and safety can be. Something as simple as replacing someone’s roof can have a huge impact not just on the physical health and safety components of someone’s home, but on their mental and physical wellbeing as well. I like to think about it as what keeps you up at night. If we have the ability to remove something like needing a new roof, or how high a family’s utility bills are, it can really have an impact on someone.
ABOVE: A video by Virginia LISC honoring project:Homes
What are some major challenges you have faced?
The hardest part about what we do is not being able to provide every service each homeowner needs. Different programs have different restrictions, so not every person who calls us is able to receive all of our services.
One way we have worked to get past that is through our Keep RVA Cool! initiative. In 2016 we noticed a gap when it came to air conditioning in the area: heating is considered an emergency repair, but cooling is not. So, we looked around and found programs that could help seniors and some other populations with cooling assistance, but not all low-income households qualified. We realized that under $200 per household, we could provide someone with at least some relief from the heat, by installing a high-efficiency window air conditioner. The trouble was, we underestimated the need for cooling assistance in our area, and we soon had 20 households requesting an air conditioner. In order to fund these units, we had to look outside of our existing supply of funding and reached out to any business we could think of. By the end of the summer we had raised enough to install 40 air conditioners across the region. This has become an annual program, and we will be in our third year this summer.
What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?
project:HOMES offers so many services that it’s common for our partners and clients to think one program represents everything our agency does. While all of our programs have a high-capacity to affect change in the Central Virginia region, it is the combined efforts of our programs that really sets us apart from other housing agencies. We recognize that revitalizing a neighborhood is more than building high-quality affordable homes. Sustained revitalization and neighborhood stability requires the comprehensive services that project:HOMES offers.
Our approach to revitalization includes not only creating affordable homeownership opportunities, but also creating affordable rental options. project:HOMES’ Rehabilitation and Weatherization programs provide existing homeowners in developing areas with desperately needed home repairs and energy conservation advancements – resulting in lower utility bills and improved home-safety and accessibility.
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
As a regional provider of comprehensive housing services, project:HOMES staff are out in the areas we serve every day. They see the needs of our communities first hand, and have identified a critical gap in existing services.
The rapidly growing Baby Boomer demographic has dramatically increased the need for accessibility and emergency home repairs. In response to the community need, our Renew Crew Volunteer program recently established the Immediate Response Fund. The Immediate Response Fund’s funding model provides the flexibility necessary to respond to critical needs of area homeowners. Emergency repairs are costly, and quickly addressing hazardous living conditions is critical to household members’ health and safety, as well as preserving housing affordability.
We also just received a Lead Hazards Reduction Grant, where we will work with the Richmond City Department of Economic and Community Development and the Richmond Health District to abate lead hazards in homes where there are children with lead poisoning. This is a really exciting opportunity to not just expand the services we are able to provide in Richmond, but to meet an important need.
Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
We are constantly collaborating with community partners to achieve the best possible outcome for our clients. We recently completed our first home with the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust. MWCLT has taken on the challenge of keeping affordable housing in the area affordable in perpetuity.
They do this by selling a home to a low-income homebuyer, while maintaining ownership of the land the house sits on. This creates an opportunity for the buyer to own a home, and build equity on that home, but keeps the price of the land out of the equation when the home is sold to its next buyer. Read this recent article about MWCLT in Richmond Magazine.
We are also passionate about our partnership with several other Richmond area agencies for Green and Healthy Homes. Home repairs can create important health outcomes when it comes to physical safety, asthma, and lead poisoning. We are working with organizations involved in housing, human services, and health to provide comprehensive housing and health services, in as easy as a method as possible for the clients being served.
We are entering into our third year in partnership with Philip Morris, where we work with a team of their engineering interns to build a home in five days. The interns have to take our normal four-month long construction process and figure out how to stack tasks and manage contractors so that they can compress it into less than one week. In our first year our goal was to just build it in under a week. Last year we added the challenge of it being done in five days instead of seven, and to sell the home to a low-income veteran. For this year, people will have to stay tuned to see what challenge we have added for the interns.
ABOVE: Last summer project:HOMES built a house in only 5 days with partners Philip Morris!
Currently, we are wrapping up our year-long 25th anniversary celebration. Our dedicated sponsors have made all 25th anniversary events and programs possible. Visit www.projecthomes.org/25th-anniversary for a complete list of sponsors and upcoming anniversary events.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA/The Community Foundation to achieve your mission?
The Community Foundation is a long-time supporter of project:HOMES’ programs and services. ConnectVA has helped recruit qualified staff, is a resource for professional development opportunities, and also helps stay connected to local nonprofit news and events.