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Catholics for Housing seek affordable homes for all

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Catholics for Housing seek affordable homes for all

“It’s one thing to get somebody in a house,” said Karen DeVito. “It’s another thing to make sure they don’t need you to get them into a house.”

Not that DeVito has any trouble getting people into houses. As the executive director of Dumfries-based charity Catholics for Housing, she helps about 80 low- and moderate-income families find or retain affordable living spaces every year.

Some residents occupy the approximately 50 housing units Catholics for Housing owns across Northern Virginia and some use assistance to find homes of their own.

All, DeVito said, are in need, all victims of what she characterized as a quiet crisis.

“I see the housing issue as critical,” she said. “All communities need to have affordable housing for a broad spectrum of income-earners. To be strong, a community needs housing that’s affordable to all.

We’ve helped a lot of police, firemen, and teachers get into homes. They have careers where they can advance, but you have to remember that a lot of people earn a lot less and struggle every day.”

Catholics for Housing provides security deposit and rental assistance in the form of vouchers and makes its own housing units available to those earning up to 80 percent of the region’s median income.

“It takes almost $30 an hour to afford a two-bedroom home in Northern Virginia,” explained DeVito. “That’s based on using 30 percent of your income for housing costs. Which means someone making $70,000 and working a 40-hour week, which is equivalent to $34 an hour, could afford a two-bedroom apartment with about $4 or $5 left for food, medical costs, and transportation. If you’re a mom with three kids, that’s not a lot of money.”

Jeanette Morin, a single mother of four, agreed.

“A lot of individuals, especially in NoVa, get pushed out of the housing market,” she said. “It’s a shame, because they’re doing things for a community they can’t be a part of.”
Morin, who is a teacher at Bishop O’Connell High School, moved into a townhome in 2010 with help from Catholics for Housing.

“My rent before was twice what my mortgage is now, and the apartment we were in was one-third the size of this townhouse. My kids were close to rolling into college with one already there. This allowed me to help more with college costs, and we’re in a safer neighborhood than we would be otherwise. It’s made all the difference.”

With the difficult economy persisting into its fifth year, Executive Director DeVito has seen turnover in existing housing units slow down and has searched for other ways to help eligible families.

“In 2013 we’d like to fully implement our life skills program,” said DeVito. “We try to help families make good choices about finances, about employment, about relationships, and about physical wellbeing. It can really impact how well a household can do. I was part of a federal self-sufficiency program and in 10 years, I worked with about 150 families.

About 50 totally jumped from the programs to independence. They went to college, their kids went to college, and they were very successful.”

Jim McAndrews, who serves as Catholics for Housing’s treasurer, said he believed DeVito’s idea would be the best way the charity could help Northern Virginia in the long run.

“There’s so many philanthropic opportunities out there,” he said. “I try to spend time on things that have a high impact, that uniquely add value. This has the furthest-reaching impact, the ability to reach the most people most quickly, to really change lives. As a CPA and tax attorney I’ve seen lot of people who just don’t know how to manage finances. Teaching them those skills can leave a huge mark on their lives.”

DeVito said she’s counting on that.

“I just have this belief that if you can provide some practical help, teach someone a skill set, it can
awaken something in them,” she said. “At least that’s my opinion.”

Catholics for Housing is always seeking volunteers to help with its mission. The group’s website is at www.catholicsforhousing.org.
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