June 26, 2014

Q&A with Earl Howerton of the Southside Outreach Group, Inc.

We’re pleased to share a Q&A with another of Virginia’s leaders in community housing development. Earl Howerton is the Executive Director of the Southside Outreach Group, Inc., a Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) certified by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Located in South Boston, Southside Outreach Group has been servicing Halifax County and surrounding counties since 1995.

1. How did you become involved in the affordable housing industry? In 1978, I started out in rural Virginia with the Weatherization Program – weatherizing houses for low-to-moderate income persons. I found that job to be very rewarding because it allowed individuals to save on their utility bills, thus allowing them extra money to spend on other essential household needs.

2. What changes have you seen in the affordable housing needs of the rural communities served by Southside Outreach Group during your career? I have observed many changes in the affordable housing needs in the rural communities.

  • Initially, during 2005-2009, we discovered that individuals and families wanted to become homeowners. However, they didn’t know what steps to take to achieve this goal.
  • Now, due in part to the housing crisis and the economy, we have seen a different trend. We have noticed that individuals and families are choosing more rental housing.

3. Can you discuss any initiatives your organization has developed to address such changes? In 2005, the Southside Outreach Group took the initiative to develop a homeownership program that included financial literacy counseling, one-on-one counseling and housing counseling in order to assist individuals and families who were seeking homeownership opportunities. The Southside Outreach Group had their staff attend training to become certified housing counselors. They also became equipped to pull credit reports. This allowed the counselors to work with the individuals and families to assist them in cleaning up their credit. The Southside Outreach Group also began to work closely with VHDA’s mobile unit staff in identifying low-interest rate mortgage loans. We also established a good rapport with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (Housing Production and Down Payment Assistance Program). We were also able to work with USDA Rural Development in identifying low-interest rate mortgage loans.

In addition, recognizing the need for more affordable rental housing in rural Southside Virginia, the Southside Outreach Group:

  • Entered into a partnership with UVA, the Town of South Boston, Cardinal Homes and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center to construct two highly energy-efficient ecoMod rental homes. These units were constructed to be used as transitional rentals units for individuals and families who have credit issues and lack down payment funds. These individuals will go through our homeownership program to not only clean up their credit, but also to allow them to save money towards their down payment for a home.
  • Identified 46 rental units. We have received funds from various sources: tax credit allocation, HOME allocation, equity funding from the Virginia Community Development Corporation, a construction loan from Virginia Community Capital, a loan from the Town of South Boston, a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank and permanent financing from VHDA. These funds will be used to rehabilitate these units so they can be rented to individuals with incomes at or below 60% of the area median income.

4. What do you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of the Southside Outreach Group under your leadership? The development of a subdivision that consisted of 22 affordable, single-family houses that were designed, constructed and sold to low-to-moderate income first-time homebuyers. The time period of development and construction was from 2005-2009. This subdivision allowed individuals and families who traditionally would not have been able to afford to purchase a home with the opportunity to make their dream a reality. I am happy to say that there have been no foreclosures!

5. Do you have any advice to give a college student interested in a career with a non-profit organization focusing on affordable housing? My advice is to have the compassion and drive to make things happen; be open-minded and innovative; and be willing to go that extra mile for those who are unable or unsure of how to find and afford a decent, safe and affordable place to live.

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