Laura Nickle checks in with Terry Beltz from sponsor Virginia Housing Development Authority. Nickle owns public relations, marketing and event planning company Communi-k, Inc., and is not only the organizer of the Expo, but also a firm proponent of affordable housing and community support for everyone. “Your zip code should not predict how you turn out in life,” she said.
Photo by Andrea Worker.
“Those most in need of these services and resources benefit the most when we can bring so many providers and organizations together in this one-stop shop format.” In that one sentence, Laura Nickle, owner of Communi-k, Inc. and the organizer – for the fourth time – of the Northern Virginia Housing Expo, summed up the event being held at Herndon High School on Saturday, March 21. “There is still a great need for affordable housing throughout our entire region,” she added, “and this is a great partnership of related services that can bring the information and assistance to the largest audience.”
In its fifth year, the Expo was hosted by Fairfax-based AHOME Foundation in cooperation with the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) and representation from the counties of Fairfax, Prince William, Arlington and Loudoun, the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church, and the town of Herndon. AHOME Foundation is a nonprofit collaboration of charitable organizations, businesses, developers, real estate professionals and community groups that advocates for housing opportunity. Sponsors like Capital One Bank, VHDA, Citibank, the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, Veterans United Home Loans and Wells Fargo Home Mortgage were just a few who supported the Expo that was expecting more than 1,000 area residents to attend. “And participation keeps growing,” added Nickle. “We have six more sponsors this year, and 12 more exhibitors.”
MORE THAN 70 exhibitors filled the school’s cafeteria. The first row was dedicated to representatives from the covered jurisdictions with the host locale Town of Herndon’s Department of Community Development holding pole position. Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority, the City of Alexandria Office of Housing, the City of Falls Church Housing and Human Services, Loudoun County Department of Family Services, Housing and Community Development, Prince William County Office of Housing and Community Development and Arlington County Department of Housing followed in the front row. Their booths were stocked with literature, forms, resources and some fun goodies, and manned by welcoming and knowledgeable staff. Armed with an Expo Guide, attendees could choose to either wander the aisles, or take a more direct route to the booths from the jurisdictions and service providers of particular interest to them, like May Nguyen from Falls Church. Nguyen brought her sister and a nephew to the Expo “to see if we can maybe get our own home someday,” and was planning on visiting the Falls Church representative, as well as the banks and mortgage companies among the exhibitors, with a stop at the Asian-American Homeownership Counseling booth. The County of Fairfax Homeownership Resource Center booth was drawing an interested crowd as representative Gail Lee explained that there are tiered housing assistance programs available through the County. If a family’s income is too high to qualify under the rules of one program, they may still qualify through other programs.
There were a number of banks and mortgage and financial services companies represented, but there was also a strong presence by nonprofits like Reston-based Cornerstones, Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, Our Daily Bread of Fairfax, AHOME of Arlington (a different entity from host organization AHOME Foundation) that offers free homeownership education classes and pre-purchase and foreclosure prevention counseling and Wesley Housing Development Corporation, whose mission is “to develop, own, operate, preserve and maintain affordable housing and sustain quality communities for low and moderate income families and individuals in Virginia.”
There were also 16 workshops on offer with topics like “Are You Ready to Rent or Buy,” “The ABC’s of Credit Scores,” “Tenant Rights and Responsibilities,” and “Home Maintenance 101.” In addition to the group sessions, Our Daily Bread offered popular one-on-one free financial counseling sessions of about 30 minutes that kept the volunteer certified financial planners busy reviewing documents, providing expert advice and steering the attendees to additional resources. Amaya G. from Herndon was most appreciative of this service. “I know we need some help,” she said. “I brought our bills. I hope they can help us make a good budget so we can start to save some money.”
THE COLLABORATIVE EFFORTS of the partners in the Northern Virginia Housing Expo don’t end when the doors close on this edition of the event. Their website www.novahousingexpo.org is up and running year round and provides links to resources in all of the covered jurisdictions including government agencies, advocacy groups and nonprofits. The site also includes a list of the exhibitors.