At Colonial, we believe in serving our clients and the greater community. And in 2020, our team decided to partner with Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia (Habitat NOVA). 

Habitat for Humanity is an international faith-based housing organization, and we recently had a conversation with Liz Salter, Director of Community and Donor Engagement at Habitat NOVA. We’re excited to share part of our conversation about this great organization and partnership below.  

 Liz works with individual donors and heads up many of Habitat NOVA’s marketing, social media, and volunteer programs. She describes it as a “great place to be” and says with a laugh that non-profit life ensures her life is never boring!

“We are really excited to start a partnership with Colonial,” Liz says. “We have corporate build days, which allow us to fundraise, engage our community and raise awareness. Employees will come join us on a build, and it’s a great team-building exercise because it’s so hands-on.” She describes how it’s a huge asset when volunteers and corporate partners have a construction background like Colonial because they have the experience working on a structure and understand the cost of building a house. And for Colonial, the team has seen first-hand how much a solid roof impacts a family in their home.

Outside of COVID, Liz explains that approximately 70% of homes are built with volunteer support. And with corporate days, that volunteer support is supplemented by financial donations from the organizations, which helps keep costs low for families.  

Liz describes another event called WomenBuild where teams can build and fundraise. “Our Director of Construction is a woman,” Liz shares. “So, we want to highlight the women in construction. It’s an industry that hasn’t always been as welcoming to women, so we want to empower women in the community to know that they are welcome on site. You don’t have to have a high level of skill. You can know nothing and come and volunteer with us.” WomenBuild is the program Colonial will be joining, and we’re hoping to participate financially and on site as it becomes safe to do so. 

Habitat for Humanity International has 1,400 individual affiliates, like Habitat NOVA. Affiliates operate as independent local non-profit organizations that act in furtherance of the Habitat for Humanity mission. Liz explains that when you support an affiliate, like Habitat NOVA, it directly impacts local families and means that homes in your community are being built and repaired.

In Northern Virginia, homes are expensive, and Habitat NOVA can’t compete against other homebuyers paying full price. They’re always looking for opportunities, and those include homes and land, where the organization can build.

“The pandemic really highlighted how important safe housing is and even homeownership,” says Liz. “If you have a roof over your head, you may not have ever had to think about it. But expensive housing leaves little money for other important items like medical needs, food, and even savings. We’ve also seen how homeownership can really impact generational wealth. Without high living expenses, maybe you can save and help your children have a better education. Maybe they don’t have to take as many loans. We’ve seen how stable housing can really impact the future, not just safety and security for today.”

Liz shares how one of their current families is waiting on their home to be done. It’s expected to be completed in just a couple of days, meaning the family can finally move into their own space. Their current situation is a one-bedroom apartment, so the teenagers are forced to live in bunk beds in the living room. Overcrowded housing situations are a common reason that families come to Habitat NOVA.

Liz describes the Affordable Homeownership Project, which focuses on providing affordable homeownership with the help of donors, volunteers, and pro-bono donations of supplies from the construction industry. Families in the program are then able to purchase their home at a reasonable price and monthly mortgage. One of the ways Habitat NOVA does that is with a “silent second”. In order to keep affordable homes in the community, Habitat NOVA has the first right to buy the home back if a family decides to sell within the 30 year mortgage period. If the families stay in the home and pay off their first loan in 30 years, the silent second is forgiven.

As you might imagine, Habitat NOVA receives many applications for the Affordable Homeownership Project and has a robust screening process. The homeowner must go through financial literacy courses to understand the mortgage and homeownership process, including how to manage expenses and responsibilities that come with a home. There is also a “sweat equity” requirement, which means the new homeowner will volunteer hours onsite at the builds or at the ReStores, which is a resale shop that supports home builds with its profits.

Typically, Habitat NOVA completes about four homes a year – both new builds and rehabs. There are also special projects like a partnership they currently have with another organization to build ten townhomes on a church property. Or to build a group home for a special population that struggles to find affordable housing due to developmental disabilities.

“We’ve learned to be really innovative in a place where land is so difficult to get,” says Liz. “So, we’re really excited about these new projects because our goal is to help as many families as possible. We see a lot of overcrowding issues, and it’s exciting when we can help them.”

Liz describes a case with a father who had two children that were becoming teenagers. He was desperate to respect his daughter’s privacy, but also had a son and no space for them both. His son was living in a master closet, suffering through intense heat in the summer. Liz describes how the whole family was excited throughout the entire building process. The kids were able to pick their room colors and become invested in their new home. The family had immigrated from a country full of strife and came to America with a dream. But they were starting to feel like they had no options. That ended when they came to Habitat.

Liz recalls another family who had purchased their home through Habitat NOVA with a 20-year mortgage and been able to pay off their loan. The father had become impassioned by the mission of Habitat for Humanity and decided to move to Mississippi to help build homes there for a year after Hurricane Katrina. When they sold their home this year, they donated $10k back to Habitat NOVA. “It starts with a home, but we become a large community,” Liz says. “We frequently see families that continue to pay it forward and stay involved long after they become homeowners. They embrace the mission and want to help more and more families.”

Liz explains how the act of homeownership can support an entire community. “If people are spending all of their money on housing, they’re not able to support their community or connect in the same way.”

Liz has always worked for a non-profit and loved the idea of Habitat for Humanity, even before joining the team. “Habitat for Humanity is such a well-known brand that is well-respected and trusted. We truly believe we have to invest back into our communities, and we’re all made stronger by investing in people. If we have the ability to do that, we should. With Habitat NOVA, we provide the opportunity for faith-based groups, corporations, and individuals to invest in others and ultimately strengthen our community.”

That opportunity is typically extended to 4,500 volunteers that join Habitat NOVA’s mission every year. Like many nonprofits, they experienced a loss during COVID. “Corporate build sponsors and smaller donors were not as readily available, so we needed to find a way to make up that loss.” 

But as things change, Liz is hopeful that volunteer events, with social distancing and safety, will return as early as Fall. It is those events that Colonial will partner with as soon as possible. “Colonial’s team will be able to actually work on the home that will change the life of a family,” Liz says. “It’s a really unique experience to see it come together.”

It’s clear that Habitat NOVA is passionate about serving the community and helping as many families as possible obtain safe, affordable housing that is sustainable for themselves and their future generations.

At Colonial, we believe that we are all connected, and everybody deserves to have a home. Working alongside Habitat for Humanity, we feel privileged to be a part of making that happen. And we look forward to participating, giving our time and skills to Habitat for Humanity.


To learn more about Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, visit https://www.habitatnova.org/

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