Housing on Merit’s mission is to create a bridge to permanent affordable housing for vulnerable populations. We achieve our mission through developing affordable housing, providing resident services programming, and housing our heroes.
Housing is infrastructure. Research has shown that clean, safe affordable housing is of foundational importance for general health, child welfare, and a stable labor market. Since its inception in 2011, Housing on Merit has co-developed over 2,700 units of affordable housing nationwide. The supply of affordable housing has failed to keep up with the fast growing demand. In Southern California alone there is a shortage of nearly 1 million affordable homes. The decrease in affordable housing has been met with an increase in median rent that far exceeds the increase in household incomes. Housing on Merit is addressing the affordable housing crisis through innovation—specifically, a Housing Innovation + Learning Lab that explores non-traditional affordable housing options, tests innovative housing typologies, and accelerates the pace of production throughout the housing sector.
Housing on Merit’s resident services are designed to enhance the resident experience and promote individual and family development. We have developed a resident services programming model that allows us to measure participant outcomes as they relate to economic self-sufficiency, child and youth development, health and wellness, and community-building and civic engagement. Affordable housing creates stability; resident services programming enriches lives.
Housing Our Heroes is a program created to reduce the number of women veterans experiencing homelessness in Southern California. Through our Awards of Merit for Housing Assistance, Housing on Merit provides funds to women veterans facing homelessness to help remove barriers to permanent affordable housing.
Our work is creating multiple pathways to permanent affordable housing and is helping to welcome vulnerable populations HOM!
Housing on Merit is pleased to announce the May launch of our Virtual Resident Services program, designed to provide important support services to residents in our communities during these unprecedented times that for safety reasons hamper in-person resident services. Virtual Resident Services allow our Resident Services Coordinators (RSCs) to provide residents with academic tutoring, assistance with arts and crafts projects, and companionship via phone and video conferencing. Resident feedback has been overwhelmingly positive thus far, with many sharing that before the launch of our Virtual Resident Services they had been feeling isolated and disconnected due to the state-wide stay-at-home order. Parents and their children have expressed gratitude for our Virtual Homework Help program, which has provided assistance to youth as they navigate the challenges of online schooling.
In addition, Housing on Merit distributed to residents resource lists of local and national organizations that offer rental payment relief, assistance with utility and credit card bills, free access to Wi-Fi, remote learning services, and more. In addition, we are working with community partners to soon provide free hot meal services to residents at our San Diego communities and an on-site food truck at one of our Washington D.C. properties. Housing on Merit understands the importance of adapting our programming to bridge the gap in services and resources available to residents during these unprecedented times, and we will continue to work diligently to develop new resident services programming and partner with community organizations to address the needs of residents in our communities.
During these unprecedented times, Housing on Merit maintains our commitment to developing and preserving affordable housing communities where residents can access support services and growth opportunities to maintain safe, stable housing. We have made thoughtful decisions to help ensure our staff are protected, and our partners and residents feel supported. In the coming weeks, we will expand our resident services programming to include virtual programming to keep residents engaged and to ensure we are doing our best to address their needs.
We will continue to closely monitor CDC and other government guidelines related to COVID-19, and make any adjustments necessary to carry on with our important work. There has never been a better time to give to Housing on Merit. In accordance with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, donors can make a charitable contribution and deduct the full amount up to their Adjusted Gross Income. Your donations go a long way in ensuring that Housing on Merit continues to create bridges to permanent affordable housing for vulnerable populations. You can make a donation here.
Housing on Merit’s Program and Planning Coordinator, Vivian Preciado, attended MANA de San Diego 2020 Networking Breakfast at the Lafayette Hotel on February 28th. The topic for this breakfast meeting was”Women’s Worth: Reclaiming Our Divinity & Our Destiny” and brought together Latina leaders from across San Diego. The keynote speaker was Starla Lewis, Professor Emeritus and CEO of Celebration of Everlasting Life and Love (C.E.L.L.) consulting. Lewis has been a college professor of African-American studies for the past 39 years, and her work as a life coach teaching people to gain mastery over their lives. Ms. Lewis describes her presentation style as “edu-taining,” and her goal is to provide her audience with meaningful learning experiences. ISHE, a creative visionary and author, and YahYah, an eighteen-year-old creative visionary, were also fellow speakers at the breakfast. The speakers make up three generations of leaders in women empowerment with Ms. Lewis, her daughter ISHE, and grandaughter YahYah. They will also be speaking at San Diego Women’s Week!
Housing on Merit is one of the 4,700 organizations that have signed a letter urging Congress to include extensive investments in affordable homes. The House Financial Services Committee is set to vote on “The Housing Is Infrastructure Act“ Tuesday, February 25th. This bill will make robust investments in the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF) and public housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) is a strong proponent for this act because this infrastructure package enacted by Congress increases and preserves the supply of affordable homes for people with the lowest incomes. HOM is proud to sign the letter and support the NLIHC to secure an infrastructure package that addresses housing challenges faced by extremely low-income families.
Throughout quarter two, Housing on Merit provided over 570 hours of after-school programming across our communities.
Volunteers from San Diego State University’s College of Education developed a month-long Art Camp for youth at Rio Vista Apartments in San Diego, California Camp participants were encouraged to explore different art mediums such as paint, collage, and sculpture. They then created their own masterpieces for the community art show, held at the Learning Center. The Art Camp was a success and garnered interest from residents of all ages. All participants wrote thank-you letters to the camp volunteers to express their appreciation for being able to participate in the Art Camp.
Housing on Merit’s Housing Innovation Coordinator, Charly Ligety, attended the Navigating Opportunity Zones seminar in Los Angeles on June 12. “Opportunity Zone” is a designation created by the Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017 to encourage economic development and job creation in distressed communities across the nation. Over the last year homeless rates have risen 12% in Los Angeles County and 16% in the City of Los Angeles, highlighting the urgent need for new affordable housing development. The event, hosted by the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti and Enterprise Community Partners, was designed to provide nonprofit organizations, public agencies, elected officials and developers with a greater understanding about how to best utilize tax incentives without exacerbating displacement and gentrification, how to identify Opportunity Zones in Los Angeles County, and best practices in affordable housing, community and economic development. The event also included a Q&A with panelists Lori Chatman, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Community Investment, Inc. and President of Enterprise Community Loan Fund, Inc.; Ron Frierson, Director of Economic Policy, Mayor’s Office of Economic Development; and Ben Winter, Chief Housing Officer, Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Housing on Merit continues to expand its impact and nationwide exposure within the affordable housing industry. As part of this effort, Executive Director Jennifer Litwak attended the 2019 Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network’s Spring Leadership Summit in Kansas City, Mo., on June 6-7. The Summit provided attendees professional development and learning opportunities to advance their leadership skills. The CREW Network was developed to bring together women involved in various aspects of commercial real estate to exchange information, develop business contacts and support each other’s successes. Ms. Litwak is an appointed member of CREW Network’s Member Education Committee and the Scholarship Selection Committee, and serves on CREW San Diego’s Board of Directors. CREW Network membership has grown to 11,000 worldwide and is now in more than 75 major markets.
Housing on Merit and Standard Communities were selected as a Tax Credit Excellence Award Winner for the preservation of the Fort Chaplin Park Apartments at the 25th Annual Charles L. Edson Tax Credit Excellence Awards in Washington, D.C., on June 4. Each year the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition (AHTCC) honors outstanding low-income housing tax credit developments, and the Fort Chaplin Park Apartment complex was the top choice among a panel of experts in the Preservation category. The award highlights the strong partnership between HOM and Standard Communities and their dedication to the creation, improvement and preservation of affordable housing nationwide. The transformation of the 549-unit Fort Chaplin Park Apartments included a comprehensive renovation of unit interiors and the modernization of building systems. The project also includes the addition of a 5,000 square foot Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified Community Center, which serves as a hub for resident services and programming that focuses on academic excellence, health and wellness, employment and financial stability, and growth and empowerment.
Housing on Merit held a graduation event to recognize and celebrate three students who recently earned their high school diplomas. Valeria Parra, Melissa Ruiz and Bryana Ingle have been long-time participants of the tutoring, mentoring and educational programs offered at Vista La Rosa’s Learning Center, in San Diego, CA, which provides residents with ongoing support to pursue personal and academic success. In recognition of their accomplishments, Resident Services staff provided each graduate with a card, flowers and a certificate from HOM. The students were also given guidance and advice in time management, organizational skills and with registering for classes. Future plans for the three graduates include attending San Diego State University and joining the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Law Enforcement Explorer Program.
Housing on Merit’s Executive Director, Jennifer Litwak, was awarded a certificate of completion for the Nonprofit Leadership Program in June 2019 from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Executive Education. Coursework included Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board, Nonprofit Financial Stewardship, and Performance Measurement for Effective Management of Nonprofit Organizations. Each program is part of the Nonprofit Leadership Executive Certificate series, which was designed with the understanding that effective leadership requires a continuous commitment to learning, building new skills and expanding a global community of leaders. The programs also align with Harvard Kennedy School’s Executive Core Qualifications that include the competencies of Leading Change, Leading People, Results Driven, Business Acumen and Building Coalitions.
Housing on Merit’s Planning & Programming Coordinator, Vivian Preciado, attended MANA de San Diego’s Membership Networking Breakfast in Chula Vista, CA., on May 25. Miriam Roman, Senior Human Resources Generalist at Community Health Group, was the featured speaker at the event, entitled “How Mentors Can Help You Define Your Own Success.” HOM regularly participates in events such as the Networking Breakfast because they represent opportunities to expand our impact within the resident services industry. MANA (taken from “Hermana,” the Spanish word for sister) holds events throughout the year to encourage personal and professional growth, provide important networking opportunities, and address concerns and challenges unique to the Latina community. MANA de San Diego was founded in 1986 as a local chapter of the national Latina organization, MANA National, and is the largest chapter with more than 2,900 members and supporters. It is an award-winning organization providing educational programs through mentoring, educational financial support, health and wellness, and leadership development workshops.
As part of Housing on Merit’s ongoing efforts to provide and promote quality resident services within the affordable housing industry, Planning & Programming Coordinator, Vivian Preciado, attended the Bullying Across Ages Workshop as part of the San Diego Housing Federation’s 2019 Resident Services Support Network’s (RSSN) Training Series. The workshop provided tools to identify, prevent and respond to bullying for residents of all ages. It also showcased the characteristics of bullying and the ways bullying presents itself to youth, adults and seniors. The workshop also provided mediation and healthy communication resources for adult populations. The RSSN provides resident services professionals with educational forums, networking opportunities and peer learning. Other 2019 Training Series workshops cover topics such as immigration services and relief options.
Housing on Merit has been consistently involved in supporting hunger relief. Planning & Programming Coordinator, Vivian Preciado, recently attended the California Hunger Action Coalition’s (CHAC) 22nd annual Hunger Action Day in Sacramento, CA, to fight for meaningful policies and legislation to end hunger. Organizations and advocates from across the state, including the San Diego Hunger Coalition and Feeding San Diego, took part in the event that included legislative visits, rallies and networking to support ending hunger and poverty in California. Ms. Preciado joined the San Diego Hunger Coalition to meet with staff members for Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and Assemblymember Todd Gloria, advocating for several bills including the CalFresh Shelter Deduction (AB494), CalFresh Connect (SB285) and Hunger-Free Preschool (AB842). The report entitled “Hunger Free Kids,” developed by the San Diego Hunger Coalition, documents that 1 in 5 children lack consistent access to adequate nutrition in San Diego County and highlights the crucial need for improved policies and new legislation.
Housing on Merit’s Executive Director, Jennifer Litwak, was a featured speaker at the Council of Development Finance Agencies’ (CDFA) Intro Housing Finance WebCourse on May 22. Attendees were given an introduction to the complex world of housing, and exposed to the terminology and landscape of the housing space in community development. The course covered a multitude of diverse capital sources within housing deals and innovative case studies from across the country on how investment in an effective housing financing strategy can help drive the success of local economic development. Ms. Litwak joined an expert panel to examine the numerous and diverse programs available for housing development at the state and local level, and discuss the programs they accessed for their housing projects and how it worked into their overall financing structure.
Housing on Merit is pleased to announce it has acquired two affordable housing complexes located in Fairfield, CA, in partnership with Standard Communities. The acquisition and partnership demonstrates a commitment to bringing communities with high-quality homes that residents can enjoy for generations to come. The Parkside Villa and Rockwell Manor apartment complexes comprise 128 units and will undergo a $7 million renovation project to upgrade nearly every aspect of the properties, and will do so without displacing residents during the renovation. “Housing on Merit is eager and excited to participate in the preservation of much needed affordable housing for Fairfield residents,” said Jennifer Litwak, Executive Director of HOM. “Parkside Villa and Rockwell Manor will soon be transformed into beautifully updated communities that residents will enjoy and be proud of for many years.” In addition to overhauling unit interiors and improving energy efficiency, the renovation will modernize building systems, update facades, expand and improve common areas and amenity spaces. Despite the comprehensive renovation there will be no rent increase for residents.
In partnership with Standard Communities, Housing on Merit recently completed an extensive preservation project at their Fort Chaplin Park Apartments in Washington, D.C. The project completion was celebrated with a ribbon cutting event attended by Mayor Muriel Bowser and Councilmember Vincent Gray, who lauded the important impact the project will have in the community for decades. “Housing on Merit is tremendously proud to be a part of such a collaborative effort that will improve the quality of life for hundreds of families residing at the Fort Chaplin Park Apartments,” said Executive Director, Jennifer Litwak. “Preserving the affordability of these units combined with completing the large community renovation is a unique accomplishment for all of the parties involved.” The redevelopment project ensures that all 549 units at Fort Chaplin Park Apartments will remain affordable to low- and moderate-income households for the next 30 years. Standard Communities and Housing on Merit were selected as development partners by the Chaplin Hope Tenant Association, and this project is the largest tax-exempt bond, preservation deal in the District’s history.
Housing on Merit’s Executive Director, Jennifer Litwak, was a featured speaker at the 31st Annual Real Property, Trust and Estate (RPTE) National Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Conference in Boston on May 9-10. The event featured the nation’s leading experts discussing the latest developments in real estate and trust, and estate law. Ms. Litwak joined a panel of experts to discuss the function of Opportunity Zones. They presented case studies, considered the effect of additional regulations, reviewed revenue procedures, and discussed program viability through 2026. The panel also analyzed the benefits of Opportunity Zones from a tax, economic development, lender and treasury official perspective. The RPTE is a leading national forum for lawyers consisting of 25,000 members. The Real Property Division focuses on legal aspects of property use, ownership, development, transfer, regulation, financing, taxation and disposal. The Trust and Estate Division focuses on all aspects of trusts, estate planning, employee benefits, insurance, and probate and trust litigation. The RPTE is a member group of the American Bar Association (ABA).
Housing on Merit’s Housing Innovation Coordinator, Charly Ligety, attended the Southern California Association of NonProfit Housing’s (SCANPH) inaugural affordable housing debate in Los Angeles on May 9. The event, “Room for Debate: Affordable Housing Hot Topics,” featured experts in affordable housing to debate the controversial affordable housing topics of inclusionary housing, rent control, and local vs. state control. SCANPH’s Executive Director, Alan Greenlee, moderated the spirited debate of these complex topics that led to numerous opposing viewpoints but also highlighted several areas of agreement among the debate participants that included Rick Jacobus, Principal of Street Level Advisors; Mott Smith, Co-founder of Civic Enterprise; Becky Dennison, Executive Director of Venice Community Housing; Stuart Waldman, President of Valley Industry Commerce Association; Rick Cole, Santa Monica City Manager; and Anya Lawler, Policy Advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty.