BRISTOL, Va. — The Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority (BRHA) hosted a community roundtable today that welcomed Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, with discussion focused on the diverse housing and self-sufficiency challenges facing Bristol and the surrounding region.
Held at BRHA’s EnVision Center, the panel discussion included former Bristol resident Aviva Shapiro-Frye, director of scheduling and community engagement for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor; Margaret Feierabend, Bristol Tennessee City Council, Family Promise; Bill Hartley, mayor of Bristol, Virginia; Randy Eads, city manager of Bristol, Virginia; Lisa Cofer, executive director, United Way of Bristol; Denise Franklin, BRHA Board of Commissioners member; BRHA leadership; and current and former BRHA residents. Beth Rhinehart, president and CEO of the Bristol TN/VA Chamber of Commerce, served as moderator for the discussion.
“It’s important for the leaders of the Commonwealth to understand the complex challenges that make it difficult — and often impossible — for lower-income residents in this region to achieve a higher quality of life,” Fairfax said. “BRHA and the residents they serve are the best place to start the discussion about what is currently being done, learn how two states have come together on behalf of one city to provide solutions for these residents, and hear what needs to be done to help them receive the housing, parenting, education, and job training resources they need to attain better lives for themselves and their families.”
BRHA provides safe, attractive and affordable housing and housing assistance for more than 600 families in the Bristol community, along with opportunities for families and individuals to achieve a higher standard of living. Since 2006, BRHA’s Find A Way program has partnered with local agencies to help numerous residents break the cycle of dependency.
Last year, the former Find A Way office, located at 712 Oakview Street in Bristol, Virginia, was named an EnVision Center demonstration site by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, making it the first rural locality in Virginia to receive this designation, and the only one capable of serving across state lines.
“EnVision Centers are designed to help streamline the process of connecting HUD-assisted families with available resources,” said Lisa Porter, executive director/CEO of BRHA. “Everything is now handled on site at the EnVision Center — from opportunities for stable housing and transportation to budgeting, education, job training, parenting and homemaking skills — all the tools required for independence that we’ve previously had to send our residents to a number of locations to obtain.”
EnVision Centers are located on or near public housing developments, and make federal resources more readily available to greater numbers of HUD-assisted families. BRHA’s designation as an Envision Center also made HUD’s substantial support network available to BRHA, with assistance in building program capacity, increasing federal, state and local partnerships, identifying service gaps, and engaging stakeholders to meet community needs.
“Achieving self-sufficiency is a challenging task in an area such as ours, where there is a higher incidence of homelessness, the economy tends to lag behind that of other areas, and community needs don’t stop at the state line,” said Lynn Pannell, BRHA’s resident services manager. “Despite these factors, we consistently work to help individuals and families reach self-sufficiency, and the Envision Center has enabled us to pull a number of resources under one roof. This makes it much easier for our residents to understand the options available to them and to pursue the services they need.”
Established in 1938, BRHA is the largest provider of affordable rental housing in Bristol, and has been instrumental in transforming neighborhoods and assisting in the city’s revitalization efforts. For more information, visit www.brha.com.
BRHA is the designated public housing agency in the city of Bristol, Virginia. Founded in 1938, it is the second-oldest such authority in Virginia, and houses 40 percent of low-income renter families in Bristol. Its mission is to provide safe, attractive, affordable housing and housing assistance, and the opportunity for families and individuals to achieve a higher standard of living. BRHA (www.brha.com) is governed by a five-member board of commissioners that is appointed by the mayor of Bristol, Virginia. BRHA is a member of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (www.nahro.org).