How an Innovative Tiny Homes Pilot Will Help Ventura County Support its Growing Unhoused Population

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With the support of several cross-sector partnerships, the Ventura County Community Foundation is ready to launch the region’s first Tiny Homes Project.

SoCal Grantmakers recently connected with Vanessa Bechtel, CEO of the Ventura County Community Foundation, to learn more about the Tiny Homes Project the foundation is piloting in Ventura County and the cross-sector partnerships that have allowed this project to emerge.

VCFF Board of Directors and staff have led the Ventura County Community Foundation since 2015, focusing on local community needs and the long-term success of Ventura County. Today, VCCF has two main priorities: to serve as a philanthropic consulting office to support their donor community and provide local leadership to help elevate and address regional needs. VCCF community leadership initiatives have included work on the census, vaccination outreach and education, environmental work, early childhood education, and more. Vanessa has also prioritized forging strategic partnerships with donors, philanthropic partners, and government members to better serve the Ventura County community.

Vanessa recognizes SoCal Grantmakers as a vital strategic partner and has collaborated with SCG for over seven years. She is a member of the SCG Public Policy Advisory Committee and a frequent participant in Foundations on the Hill (FOTH), an annual event where funders engage and share their efforts with elected leaders in Congress. Thanks to the leadership of the VCCF Board of Directors, donors, and nonprofit leaders, during FOTH 2021, the community foundation secured the needed support for the Tiny Homes Project in Ventura County — an innovative pilot program that seeks to support the region’s growing unhoused population.

 

An Innovative Idea to Serve a Growing Unhoused Population
Over the past decade, Ventura County has seen an increase in housing instability and homelessness due to a consistent decline in residents’ financial situations since the Great Recession. The challenges of the COVID pandemic have only exacerbated housing instability. Before this year, Ventura County had fewer than 30 beds for emergency housing, most of which provide residents with little security and limited flexibility and support for the services they need. The issue felt overwhelming to Vanessa, and she questioned the level of impact VCCF could have given the cost of housing developments averaging $30 million in the county. After being introduced to a story on a Tiny Homes Project in Los Angeles by a VCCF Board member, the organization took the initiative to connect with the nonprofit service provider and the builder of the homes. After researching and touring the facility, they learned that they could build tiny houses for a fraction of the cost of the typical developments in the county.

Building Partnerships to Get the Pilot Off the Ground
As the VCCF team collected more information on the Tiny Homes Project, they realized they would need a coalition of partners to bring the pilot to life. The Ventura County Donor Peer Network members were vital to helping to lift this off the ground from the beginning and quickly rallied to fund the pilot program in its entirety. With funding secured, Vanessa then turned to a local nonprofit, the Ventura County Family Justice Center, to learn how they manage to bring together an assortment of social service providers — law enforcement, the district attorneys, childcare, capacity, case management for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking — while housing all programming under one roof. Given the Ventura County Family Justice Center’s vast experience, they became essential partners and helped the VCCF co-design the pilot project.

Vanessa’s deep dive into the world of tiny homes coincided perfectly with her attendance at FOTH 2021, where she joined the Philanthropy California delegation. At this event, she and several other philanthropic leaders from Southern California met with Congresswoman Julia Brownley (CA-26), who expressed interest in hearing more about the Tiny Home initiative. The meeting led to follow-up conversations with her, other government leaders, and additional funders, who provided valuable insight from completed projects and counsel on accessing public funds to finance the initiatives.

Preparing to Launch Ventura’s Tiny Homes Project
Ventura’s Tiny Homes Project has progressed significantly in the past year. In late spring, the pilot project will open at least four units, with eleven to follow soon after, and a potential 50 new placements in the future. The tiny homes community will provide a safe and nurturing environment with amenities that set residents up for long-term success, such as 24-hour security, on-site childcare, fresh meals, and case management services. Another unique aspect of Ventura’s tiny homes is that residents will be able to bring their pets. Often, individuals who need shelter turn down placements because they are asked to forfeit or abandon their companions. Additionally, the tiny homes will provide up to sixty days of accommodations, even though most residents in temporary housing are successfully placed into long-term housing within 45 days.

Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships to Scale
Vanessa expressed her immense gratitude for the financial and educational support she has received while implementing the Tiny Homes Project. She is also profoundly grateful for all of the leaders who have been helping along the way. While the pilot project is fully funded, there is a need for additional funding to reach the maximum number of placements they hope to provide in the future. Vanessa is hopeful, however, given the different resources available through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and other investments that are a part of COVID-19 recovery. For example, she highlighted that $160 million was dedicated to Ventura County. Vanessa is hoping that the foundation will be able to access a few additional sources of funding, including Project Home Key dollars and ARPA funding from the County of Ventura. She knows that accessing these public funds and scaling the pilot will require further collaboration with other philanthropists and elected leaders.

Looking Forward
Vanessa is grateful to the members and staff of SoCal Grantmakers for the partnership, feedback, advice, and convening provided to her and VCCF over the years. As VCCF launches the Tiny Homes Project, they hope to share their learnings, challenges, and opportunities with our network. If you are interested in contacting Vanessa Bechtel, you can email her at vbechtel@vccf.org. She encourages anyone interested in learning more and getting involved with the Tiny Homes Project to contact her directly.

 

This article was published by SoCal Grantmakers.

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