Tell us about yourself.
My name is Mike Burnette, and I am the director of communications for Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia (HOME). Fifteen years ago this month, I came to HOME from the advertising and printing worlds. I gained my nonprofit and housing experience while volunteering for eight years on the board and PR committee of Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity. When I saw the posting for this new position at HOME, I knew it was the perfect combination of my housing passion and my job experience. Fifteen years later, I am still very committed to the work we do.
What is the focus of your work?
The focus of my work is to communicate HOME’s mission of ensuring equal access to housing to all people. We do this in many ways. We help first-time home seekers in central Virginia buy their first home with down payment assistance; we counsel families across the state to help them avoid foreclosure; we work with Richmond metro landlords to help voucher holders move to neighborhoods of higher opportunity and lower poverty; and we address both glaring and systemic cases of housing discrimination across the state with investigations, research, and policy work at both the local and statewide levels. My job is to communicate all of what we do to varying audiences using the media, social media, email, web, and direct community interaction to educate and inform on many housing issues.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
The most rewarding part of what I do is knowing that I have had a hand in changing lives. It sounds cliché, but where you live impacts nearly every facet of your life including where you work, where you shop for groceries, and where your children go to school. Simply being closer to your job, or having your children enrolled in a good school can make all the difference in your quality of life. My reward is simply knowing that we have created better lives by creating equal opportunities.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
You cannot change mindsets of discrimination instantly and often times progress is very slow. It takes time and it takes money to change old laws, create new laws, uncover endless instances of housing discrimination, and use the courts and administrative complaint processes to make change.
What’s one misconception the public has about HOME?
A lot of people think of us as a governmental organization. We are a nonprofit and, therefore, we do not have enforcement power when it comes to violators of fair housing law. We use the state and federal complaint processes and other times we use the courts to enforce the law. In addition, we are just like any other nonprofit, who rely heavily on fundraising for support.
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
We are consistently working hard at the state level to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the eight other protected classes in Virginia Fair Housing Law. We are also working to ensure those that have a non-violent criminal history past can secure housing just like any other person and not be blocked access to the basic human need of shelter.
Is HOME involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
This April, HOME partners with the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia to debut its latest exhibit featuring HOME’s famous case 20 years ago that changed the way homeowner’s insurance is bought and sold in this country. It will be on display April through June.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA/The Community Foundation to achieve your mission?
ConnectVA is always a resource for understanding the beat of the nonprofit community. Understanding other nonprofits and their needs and their missions help make HOME a better organization, a better referral source, and a better partner. In addition, ConnectVA has always been a consistent go-to source for our employment needs. Our ongoing partnership with The Community Foundation has helped create so many different avenues for success. In the foreclosure crisis, The Community Foundation was there side-by-side with us for many years to fund a very critical time in our nation’s housing struggle. As the recovery has turned, our partnership is now back to creating new homeowners especially in the Hispanic community and those with Limited-English proficiency. We also have relied on The Community Foundation to keep our employees well-trained and our organization running with a strong strategic direction.
Anything else you would like to share?
In the nonprofit communications world, I feel your heart should be there to help others shine. Whether it is our policy and research staff, our counselors, or our CEO, my job is to showcase them and their work in the community and not to be the face for these talented professionals.