Affordable Housing Finance’s article Threats to LIHTC’s Mojo Loom in the January/February issue correctly argues that the shortage of skilled construction workers is one of the key factors in rapidly rising construction costs that have a significant impact on the industry’s ability to provide affordable housing.

Christy Eaton
Christy Eaton

Numerous organizations are impacted: affordable housing developers by the escalating costs, the builders and subcontractors who are challenged to find and hire skilled laborers, and ultimately, the individuals who pay the literal and figurative price when affordable housing is not available, local, or accessible.

HomeAid Northern Virginia is undertaking a unique approach to address this situation: We are proactively convening seemingly disparate partners—homebuilder construction trades and nonprofit homelessness service providers—and building a pathway to skilled construction jobs for some of our community’s most vulnerable residents.

A national organization with chapters across the country, HomeAid builds and renovates homeless shelters and supportive housing facilities across the country via the donated expertise, labor, and resources of homebuilders and construction trade partners. HomeAid projects provide significant cost savings to nonprofit homelessness service providers, allowing organizations to invest their budgets in programs and services rather than building expenses.

HomeAid Northern Virginia is taking this one step further and addressing the workforce issue by convening our partners around job training and job placement. Partnering with select construction trade businesses to understand the type of workers they need and the skills they are looking for, we are matching these needs to the workforce training programs that our nonprofit service provider partners offer to their clients. The hope is to create a virtuous cycle: build capacity in the local skilled labor workforce and change the lives of vulnerable individuals by providing them job skills and a path to employment with our partner companies.

Today in our local area, formerly homeless individuals are now being placed in jobs in the homebuilding industry and are being provided the support they need in terms of housing, transportation, childcare, financial management, and more. The pilot program offers a win-win for all parties: The construction industry fills a need for reliable workers, nonprofit homelessness service providers bolster the availability and success of their workforce development programs, and most importantly, individuals seeking gainful employment as a pathway to future success begin to rebuild their lives. It is a pilot that we will grow and expand over the years ahead.

Higher development costs are slowing affordable housing construction in our area and across the country. There is no one solution. But on the workforce front, being specific about the workforce gaps in local regions—and creatively collaborating with nontraditional partners such as social service organizations that provide housing and job skills training—can help change the dynamic and build a more sustainable future for local affordable housing developers, the local construction industry, and individuals rebuilding their lives after homelessness alike.

Christy Eaton is executive director of HomeAid Northern Virginia. Now entering its 15th year, HomeAid Northern Virginia has completed 107 projects for more than 35 shelter and supportive housing providers, valued at a total of more than $13.6 million. With more than half of all labor and materials costs donated, HomeAid Northern Virginia has passed along approximately $7.7 million in construction cost savings to shelter organizations, who then in turn allocate their budget dollars to programs and services rather than to building expenses.