Members of the Virginia Housing Alliance (VHA), an NLIHC State Partner, turned out in record numbers in Richmond on February 11 for VHA’s annual Housing Day. Virginia advocates have carried out a Housing Day for many years, but this was the first since the merger of the Virginia Housing Coalition and the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, which together formed the Virginia Housing Alliance on January 1. (See Memo 11/9)
On the morning of Housing Day, Greta Harris, a VHA board member and President and CEO of the Richmond- based Better Housing Coalition, welcomed the group and introduced Sim Wimbush, the Alliance’s new Executive Director. Ms. Wimbush comes to VHA with a strong background serving Virginians, working previously with the Department of Veterans Services and the Department of Medical Assistance Services.
VHA Director of Policy Zack Miller and Christie Marra of the Virginia Poverty Law Center shared with advocates the Alliance’s legislative agenda, which focuses on expanding the affordable housing stock and ensuring the necessary housing resources are available for adults with mental illness, youth aging out of foster care, and Virginia’s LGBT community.
Housing Day participants advocated for increased funding of the Virginia Housing Trust Fund (VHTF), lobbying their Senators and Delegates to approve Governor Terry McAuliffe’s (D) proposed budget, which funds the VHTF at $20 million over the next two years. Advocates presented information on the significant impact the VHTF has had since its creation in 2012, including the $98 million increase in Gross Regional Product (GRP) that resulted from the state’s initial $8 million VHTF investment.
To support Virginia residents with mental illness, Housing Day advocates urged their legislators to support Senator Janet Howell (D) and Delegate Joseph Yost’s (R) and two-year budget request of $9.28 million for permanent supportive housing (PSH) for adults with serious mental illnesses. PSH has been shown to reduce and prevent homelessness among adults with serious mental illness, including substance abuse. Housing Day participants also advocated for H.B.675 introduced by Delegate Christopher Peace (R) which, like the Howell-Yost budget request, supports adults with serious mental illness. H.B.675 would allow those who choose to live in integrated community settings, including PSH, to continue to receive the same support they receive in traditional institutions.
Housing Day participants also advocated for funding of housing and other support for youth aging out of foster care, a population that experiences homelessness at disproportionate rates. Advocates urged passage of H.B.203, introduced by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R) and S.B.436, introduced by Senator Barbara Favola (D) to create the Extended Foster Care Services and Support Program. The program, which advocates are calling “Fostering Futures,” would provide a wide range of services and supports, including housing, for youth who have recently aged out of foster care.
VHA’s legislative agenda also focused on stopping housing discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Housing Day participants encouraged lawmakers to support S.B.67, introduced by Senator Jennifer Wexton (D), and H.B.300, introduced by Delegate Marcus Simon (D), which would ban landlords or others from denying someone housing because of real or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation. Virginia would be the 23rd state, along with the District of Columbia, to enact such legislation.
Finally, Housing Day participants advocated for passage of S.B.67, introduced by Senator Jennifer Wexton (D), and H.B.300, introduced by Delegate Marcus Simon (D), which would support community investment through land banking.
VHA’s Housing Day, which drew more than 100 participants, was a huge success. VHA’s Director of Policy Zack Miller stated: “This was our best year yet not just in terms of numbers, but in the quality of legislative materials we were able to provide participants. Holding the day later in session allowed us to be more on point with our messaging and focus on the housing issues that are moving in the General Assembly this year. We are very hopeful for positive outcomes on a number of the issues we are advocating for, thanks to our active and growing base of supporters.”
For more information about the Virginia Housing Alliance, contact Zack Miller, Director of Policy, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (804) 840-8185.