When board members of the newly formed Northern California chapter of HomeAid embarked in 1999 on their inaugural transitional housing project in Antioch, they envisioned a safe and affordable place where 20 homeless families would regroup while they searched for permanent places to live.
HomeAid’s first board would soon see its simple concept morph into the convoluted contractual arrangements made necessary through the use of county and federal dollars. Fortunately, the highly experienced 16 board members who came from the homebuilding, banking, legal and other key backgrounds were no strangers to complexity.
Board member and attorney Ken Miller of Morgan Miller Blair, for example, donated $75,000 in legal fees and helped negotiate the unique contract with Contra Costa County that melded county and federal dollars with HomeAid’s contributions. The contract also had to ensure that construction workers were paid prevailing wage, a requirement of the federal grant. “In the normal range of what we see, we have never quite seen anything as complicated,” Miller said at the time.
As soon as the contracts were inked, Dahlin Group put the final touches on its donated designs for the 22,400 sq. ft. complex consisting of three, two-story buildings with 20 apartments, a day care and community center, and an office and training facility. Five homebuilding companies – Signature Properties, and Centex, Pulte, Standard Pacific and Ponderosa Homes – acted as builder captains and general contractors, donating their time and expertise. The builder captains also secured donations of time and materials from their trade partners.
By the time the transitional center was completed, the homebuilding industry had donated cash and in-kind contributions valued at $1.3 million, nearly half of the $2.7 million project budget.
“This project very likely wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t had the relationship with HomeAid,” said Contra Costa County Health, Housing and Homeless Services Director Lavonna Martin. “It is always wonderful to partner with flexible people who come in and say, ‘How can we help?’ and ‘What do you need?”
Nearly two decades later, what was then called the East County Family Transitional Center has evolved into the permanent supportive Lyle Morris Apartments. The venerable nonprofit Shelter Inc., which also operated the original transitional center, led the transformation and named the redesigned program after a local homelessness activist.
Families still regroup at Lyle Morris. But they live there permanently now under updated policies that seek to end rather than just treat homelessness. The late Lyle Morris was said to have favored a quote that HomeAid’s original board members would have undoubtedly embraced: “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”
HomeAid’s inaugural project took Morris’ philosophy another step, showing that when many contribute, much can be done. But it also set the stage for HomeAid, which would go on to partner with 27 service providers and deliver 45 projects while saving the providers almost half the cost of construction. Since 1999, HomeAid members have contributed $10.4 million in cash and in-kind donations toward 240,000 sq. ft. of facilities valued at $22.3 million. Combined, these facilities serve nearly 10,000 people.
“I certainly couldn’t have imagined those kinds of numbers when we began HomeAid,” said Matt Koart, a former Pulte division president who sat on the first board. “It was a brand new concept at the time.”
But HomeAid’s success doesn’t surprise Koart, either. Providing shelter is what home builders do best and leveraging the industry’s professional competencies to help meet a critical community need makes sense on many levels, he explained.
“On the human side of the equation — forget the practical side — just being able help to help that many people is a great thing,” Koart said. “Most of us want to do good things and make an impact outside of a profit-and-loss statement. If you can’t do that, then there isn’t much hope for you.”
In the meantime, the partnership between Contra Costa County and HomeAid is still going strong. The two organizations recently embarked on another joint project: A navigation or care center for the homeless next door to the Lyle Morris Apartments in Antioch. SDG Architecture is currently donating the facility design.
The county has secured state money to operate the facility and partial funding toward its construction. A partnership with the uniquely qualified HomeAid and its industry partners is likely the difference between breaking ground relatively soon and a protracted delay while the county looks for more money.
“I have seen HomeAid do amazing work and I am chomping at the bit to partner with them again,” said Contra Costa’s Lavonna Martin. “I have a philosophy that wonderful public-private partnerships make everything better. Each has its own strengths. And strength is what it takes to bring these very difficult but critical facilities for our vulnerable homeless population to fruition in our communities.”