A five-month hospital stay meant his medical surroundings had become home for Bill Fornville, literally. A looming discharge day was bittersweet.
“If I hadn’t have come here, I was destined to be homeless,” Fornville told The Catholic Sun after wheeling a short distance from his two-bedroom apartment at Verde Villas to its attached community center.
The modern 36-unit apartment complex sits essentially across the street from St. Theresa Parish just south of Arcadia. Fornville credits the productivity of his social worker at Phoenix’s VA Medical Center for bringing him home.
Affordable housing through Catholic Charities
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Verde Villas was the first permanent affordable housing project Catholic Charities opened with the idea of fostering stability for residents — families plus some seniors and veterans. Essentially, it’s standard apartment living, but with rent on a sliding scale and no obligation, though certainly a genuine invitation, to attend community events or take advantage of the on-site social services.
A similar property, Ironwood Village in Glendale, opened shortly thereafter and is nearly triple the size. Low-income housing tax credits and rent keep the projects self-sustaining. Desert Willow, a 57-unit complex in Tempe near St. Margaret Parish and the light rail, will celebrate a grand opening Sept. 27.
“We’ve gotten to a point now where there’s a real sense of community,” said Fornville, who moved in when Verde Villas opened two-and-a-half years ago.
Neighbors knock on his door and offer to throw something on the communal grill for him. Others pass along recipes and one secured donations that gave every household a basketful of Thanksgiving essentials.
A mini food pantry is open to residents, too, and hand-me-down clothes circulate around the courtyard. A core group of residents is consistently taking advantage of a three-month financial education course.
“Once they’re engaged with you they really like that engagement. They just want relationships,” said Steve Capobres, vice president of business development at Catholic Charities, who develops the communities.
Regular after school activities keep students on track and some residents volunteer to help. Monthly community gatherings and adult Bingo nights with token prizes foster friendships. Community life expands when individuals and community groups, including St. Theresa Parish, support Verde Villas with funding, supplies and people power.
An on-site resident services coordinator facilitates all activities and Fornville said the community manager genuinely checks in with residents.
Fornville began to do the same when he took it upon himself this summer to mentor a newer resident: a 12-year-old who lives with his mom and sister. The disabled veteran pays the youth for taking out his trash and talks to him about things that Fornville said young men need to understand and not fall in to.
“He’s learning how to be a man in the areas of responsibility,” Fornville said. “It’s about setting examples.”
Journeying with individuals and families on their path to not just stability, but bearing fruit is why Catholic Charities got involved with affordable housing.
“Whatever we can do to help people out of poverty is why we’re here,” Capobres said.
Having a permanent mindset is key, Fornville said. Then it becomes home and not a stepping stone and a true sense of community emerges. Fornville hopes these Catholic Charities projects help Americans get back to the days where everyone knows their neighbor and doesn’t hide behind their walls.