Sun Valley, Idaho has a population of about 21,000. According to the latest census information, that includes roughly 1,500 military veterans, nearly all of whom live below the poverty line. Through the REALTORS® for Veterans program, Sun Valley REALTORS® are providing assistance ranging from finding housing and rent relief to repairs, alterations, and maintenance. A REALTOR® Party Housing Opportunity Grant is helping them reach those who need them most.
Amanda Ornelas is Executive Officer of the 320-member Sun Valley Board. She explains that the small mountain community has a high cost of living, and although there’s an Air Force base about two hours away and a training ground for Navy Seals nearby, no real veterans’ services operate in the area. The pride that comes with having served in the armed forces makes it hard for many veterans to seek help, she notes: “Again and again, we hear about individuals who are struggling with housing, but unwilling to admit it. We know there are veterans living quietly, less visibly – camping, even – who need a leg up. If anyone’s going to do something about their housing needs, it’s going to be the REALTORS®.”
The Sun Valley Board has its own charitable foundation, Sun Valley REALTORS® Give, and in 2016 it established the REALTORS® for Veterans program, which it first funded through a 5K race. This year, the board registered the program with the annual IDAHO Gives Day, a statewide online fundraiser for non-profits, which brought in more than $16,000. “Far more income for far less effort than organizing a 5K!” laughs Ornelas. The REALTORS® for Veterans fund was set to provide assistance with rent and deposits, and also supported an annual Repair Fair to help with maintenance, clean-up, safety features, and wildfire abatement. The difficulty was in finding candidates who would come forward and ask for help.
So, the REALTORS® applied for a Housing Opportunity Grant to have a professional marketing firm produce and distribute a video about the program. A young couple who’d struggled for years living in a camper agreed to share their story about how the REALTORS® for Veterans program had helped them to stabilize their family, consolidate debts, and eventually buy a home with a VA loan. A short version of the video was also created, airing as a public service announcement on local cable channels and on social media. “This video has been a huge help for us,” states Ornelas. “We are not swamped with applications, but we’re getting leads and identifying those who need us. That is the goal.” Once the half-page application is submitted, it is reviewed by a panel of REALTORS® who are also veterans; the applicants are more comfortable talking with fellow vets, who in turn have the sensitivity and understanding that only those who have served can bring to the table.
The third annual Repair Fair recently helped a 93-year old WWII veteran and his wife to live in increased comfort and safety in their home, with tree services and contractor services donated by community members, as well as lots of elbow-grease from REALTOR® volunteers. Thanks to the video, the Sun Valley Board is exploring partnerships with like-minded organizations that have come forward eager to help veterans own their homes, and even build them, in light of the local housing shortage, says Ornelas.
“The Housing Opportunity Grant has helped us to change lives,” says Ornelas. “The awareness it’s created will have an ongoing impact, connecting us with neighbors who need the kind of assistance we’re equipped to give. We’re so grateful that the REALTOR® Party has made that possible.”
To learn more about how the Sun Valley Board of REALTORS® is helping its local veterans to secure and maintain housing, contact Amanda Ornelas, Executive Officer, at 208-726-7764.