Housing Heroes

The Sonoma County Housing Coalition will presents the Housing Hero Award to the person, people or organization that has made a significant contribution to providing affordable housing in Sonoma County each year. It could be a person who has worked for years to make a difference in this field or who has given large, continuing contributions, or people within an entity who have worked to make a significant policy change that has affected the community’s ability to create affordable housing, or an organization or developer who has helped provide affordable housing in a creative or significant way during the past year.

HCA Program to Receive 2012 Housing Hero Award

A single local family has quietly given more than $7 million since 1990 that has kept as many as 45,000 people in Sonoma County from homelessness. The vision of one man to establish a direct assistance program and the steadfast commitment of his family to continue funding the program indefinitely are the reasons this program, known as the HCA Program is the Sonoma County Housing Coalition’s 2012 Housing Hero.

The family of Harold C. Aguirre will be recognized with this award at this year’s Leadership Breakfast on Monday, June 4 to kick off Affordable Housing Week 2012 [link to AH Week events page]. Every year the Sonoma County Housing Coalition raises awareness about current housing issues by organizing a week of community events, publishing an updated Housing Progress Report, and presenting the Housing Hero Award to people or an organization that has made a significant contribution to providing affordable housing in Sonoma County.

Hal Aguirre established the HCA Program based on his own direct experience witnessing the difference a few dollars can make to someone struggling to stay afloat. Administered by Community Action Partnership Sonoma County, the program provides up to $1,000 of one-time rent or mortgage assistance to families and individuals who have fallen on hard times.

About 2,000 households apply each year for what was originally intended to be one-time assistance. , Joanne Hopkins, HCA Program Coordinator for CAP Sonoma noted that both first-time and repeat applications have increased in recent years due to the housing market’s widespread difficulties. Although people can re-apply every two years, priority is given to first-time applicants who meet all eligibility requirements.

The sole source of money used for direct assistance is the HCA Family Fund, a trust that Mr. Aguirre established after making his family’s fortune in real estate. The family business, HCA Management Company, owns properties throughout the United States, including housing developments and mobile home parks, which continue to generate income, according to Jennifer Thayer, Mr. Aguirre’s daughter. What’s more, assistance for covering rental deposits is paid directly to landlords who agree to refund the money to the HCA Program when the tenant moves on, multiplying the impact of the funds by enabling more people to receive help.

Before he passed away in April 2010, Mr. Aguirre made it known that he hoped his family would continue funding the HCA Program for at least another 10 years beyond his death. Ms. Thayer is one of his six children who, along with Mr. Aguirre’s wife Geri, all have a say in continuing the funding. “We don’t think we want to stop the program. We don’t really have a timeline,” Ms. Thayer says. “We want to make sure people are staying in their homes and not getting kicked out for some financial tragedy not of their making.”

Although Mr. Aguirre remained anonymous to the program’s beneficiaries, he was actively engaged with CAP Sonoma in reviewing applications and keeping up on the scores of thank you letters from people helped by the program and eager to express their gratitude, such as this:

“I am a single mother in recovery, working part-time, and going to school full-time. I was in transitional housing for over two years before finally coming up on the wait list for permanent affordable housing. If it weren’t for this deposit assistance, we would not have been able to move in.

“It is programs like [this] that help people to help themselves. And it is people like you who inspire me to succeed – so that one day I will be able to give back to the community.”

Past Housing Heroes:

2011: Jack Blankenship
2010: Margo Warnecke Merck
2009: Craig Meltzner
2008: City of Petaluma
2007: Sydney and Herschel Berry, Housing Advocates for the Disabled
2006: Ray Ambrosio, Christopherson Homes
2005: Stephen F. Burke, Executive Director, City of Santa Rosa Redevelopment Agency
2004: Burbank Housing Development Corp.