Holly Edwards' new post helps housing residents become self-sufficient

In her past work with the Charlottesville Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR), Holly Edwards encouraged her clients to push themselves to “the next level in their lives.” For Edwards, that involved getting active in local government. After choosing to step aside after one term on City Council, Edwards will be able to continue that mission as the new part-time PHAR Service Coordinator.

“The philosophy that I would like to bring to this [position] is the approach of providing services that the client, the resident, will also take ownership of,” she said in a recent interview. “The idea is that when people are involved in the outcome of services, are involved with setting goals, are involved with the work, they take ownership of it, success will follow.”

Holly Edwards has accepted a position as Service Coordinator for the Charlottesville Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR). “The philosophy that I would like to bring to this [position] is the approach of providing services that the client, the resident, will also take ownership of,” she said in a recent interview.

The position is funded by a multi-year, $153,399 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Awarded in June, the Resident Opportunities and Self Sufficiency (ROSS) grant is meant to underwrite support service coordinators who will in turn work to assess the needs of public housing residents, and helping them gain access to services with the goal of moving them towards financial self-sufficiency. The service coordinator is also tasked with helping the elderly and disabled secure services and maintain their independent lifestyles.

“We have a lot of resources in our community,” said Edwards. “The city spends a lot of money on human services programs, and there seems to be a disconnect between what the services are and how people are connecting with them.”

To this end, Edwards hopes to be a bridge between her clients and local service providers so that not only can public housing residents grow, but agencies can also be held accountable.
PHAR Vice Chair Joy Johnson said the organization had been looking for a coordinator for more than six months without success. “We are blessed to have her,” she said. “She ran a program once before that was connecting people to jobs and what that was doing was to look at what are the barriers of why people can’t move forward, what are the barriers that keep people in poverty?”

Johnson believes Edwards’ stint on City Council will help her to recognize the institutional barriers that prevent people from bettering their lives.
Although funded full-time, the position will be shared between Edwards and a public housing resident to be announced in a couple of weeks. Edwards will continue to be a presence in the Westhaven Clinic on Hardy Drive as a clinical instructor for the UVA School of Nursing.

“One aspect of my job would be to provide the mentoring for the public housing resident,” said Edwards. “My goal will be to, over time, have the public housing resident take over more and more responsibility.”

One of the biggest challenges facing Edwards and her colleague is the financial crisis. Although Edwards said the timing of the creation of the position and the program’s ambitious goals may not be ideal, “I want people to increase their own income, achieve economic and housing self-sufficiency.” Edwards said one of the biggest misconceptions about public housing residents is that they don’t have jobs and added that people would be surprised to know how many people get up and go to work everyday.

“I think people would be surprised at the number of people whose lives are no different than the middle class or the upper class, except they just don’t have as many zeros at the end of the day on their checks,” she said. “Clearly in our community, poverty has been related to poor achievement, but I think it’s more related to having a lack of opportunity, lack of access to opportunity and that’s more of a class issue, which is something we also need to continue to break down.”

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