In Conversation with MHT’s Van Fox



Facing the myriad of challenges that affordable housing development entails, one tenacity and steadfast commitment to building communities. There are no shortage of challenges and roadblocks standing in the way of taking a development from concept to reality. Imagine, then, the sheer grit and determination it must take to not only achieve this feat, but also to extend one’s responsibility to advocate for residents in every area of their life; from food and resource insecurity, to employment, safety and overall well-being.


If anyone understands these commitments, it’s Van Fox. As President of MHT Housing, Inc., Van is pivotal to the decisions that shape the non-profit’s daily work and mission. In speaking to Van, one immediately gets the sense of just how much he has on his mind. A conversation that begins with one standard industry topic inevitably leads to many others off-the-beaten path, including anecdotes to provide evidence of his fully-fledged dedication to those who call MHT developments home. Born and raised in Michigan, Van has a deep understanding of the issues facing not only the state’s housing stock but also its people and communities. The multiple full-service public aid initiatives owned and operated by MHT act as proof of the deep care he has for his neighbors.


Whether it’s a gun buyback program aimed at reducing violence in and outside of the home, a full-scale food assistance program involving over 300,000 pounds of fresh produce, or an initiative to provide toilet paper to seniors during the height of COVID lockdowns, Van has proven again and again that he is most interested in the holistic well-being of those who call his communities home. As a non-profit developer, MHT stands as a vibrant example of what mission-based affordable housing can and should look like.

Read on to discover just what MHT and Van have dedicated themselves to provide for those who are living life to the fullest within the walls of their developments, and what helped to shape their mission and vision.

 

Your model seems to emphasize a holistic, full neighborhood approach to community development. Does this belief stem from anywhere specific?

MHT’s long-standing mission has always included this holistic approach. Our mission is to provide quality affordable housing through development of new construction and rehabilitation of existing housing. We have a commitment to developing properties that enhance and revitalize the neighborhood and local community.


MHT’s Eviction Diversion Program has assisted thousands of residents under financial hardship. What inspired you to create such a program to circumvent the standard eviction process?


We sought to create a program that could help residents who had fallen under financial hardship remain residents of their property. If rent is unpaid, MHT looks to collaboratively make a payment plan with the specified resident and assist them in finding additional public funding that can ease the financial burdens they are enduring. After seeing the success of the program, the Legal Aid and Defender Association Inc., Department of Human Services, and the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency all have pledged support for the Eviction Diversion program as an overwhelmingly positive alternative to a standard eviction process. We at MHT and our partners at Gromer PLLC both feel very strongly for this program, as it truly embraces the overall meaning and reason for providing clean, affordable housing. MHT genuinely cares about its residents and this program provides a way to benefit everyone.


MHT’s portfolio is mainly made up of properties in Michigan. Does Michigan face any specific housing issues, or is this commitment based on a personal closeness to the state?


MHT is mainly in Michigan; however, we have plans to expand throughout the Midwest. As a company founded and grown in Michigan, we’ve seen firsthand the variety of challenges our state faces. We feel uniquely equipped to tackle these challenges and provide dependable housing solutions for those who need them the most, and we are excited to expand this commitment beyond our state’s borders.


One of your slogans is, “A Company with a Heart.” What does this mean to you, and how does it impact your work as a developer of housing?


We truly care about our residents, our properties, and our staff. This allows MHT to live out our mission as impactful developers because we have always what is most important to us at the forefront of every decision. Residents love to live with MHT and employees love to work at MHT.


Can you tell us about the new M Training Center, and how you hope it will assist those in need?


The newly opened M Training Center will be a hands-on learning center for adults 18 and older to learn the skills necessary to become successful in the maintenance industry and get paid while doing it. The class will last four weeks for three hours per day, and will cover areas like plumbing, HVAC, electrical, painting, drywall repair, etc.


MHT Housing’s partners in the trades (as well as current maintenance technicians), will teach the technical aspects of the class with the center director setting the pace and scope.


In addition to the maintenance skills, students will also work on resume-building, interview skills, conflict resolution and anger management. The goal is to educate and prepare the whole person with this center. The center will also work with residents to getting criminal records expunged and obtaining driver’s licenses (both of which could disqualify them from employment).


Once students satisfactorily pass the course, they will be awarded a $500 completion grant and then become part of Continental’s internship program where they will be assigned to a site with a mentor. During the internship, they will continue to learn and master their skills while earning an hourly wage. Once they have successfully completed the internship, they will be hired as a full-time maintenance technician with increased wages, full benefits, a 401(k)-retirement plan and paid time off.


The M Training Center aims to be a community resource to help people overcome obstacles to employment, train and coach them up, and usher them into a full-time career.


Is there a specific property in your portfolio that you are especially proud of or would like to call out here? What about this property makes it stand out?


While we remain proud of all our properties, Highland Manor in Highland Park, MI stands out. This mixed-use development is representative of the full commitment we provide to those that live in our homes.


What inspired you to create MHT as a means to develop affordable housing solutions? How has the mission developed or changed since its founding?

Our core mission has remained the same since MHT’s founding, but is constantly expanding into the full service, one stop shop that not only takes care of the properties and their residents but also the community surrounding them.


There is nothing easy about creating well-built, well-supported affordable housing. But this challenge pales in comparison to that created by the thorough and rigorous community support offered by MHT in their mission as a leading nonprofit developer. Only through a sense of unflinching obligation can one achieve these goals; thankfully, Van Fox embodies this trait. Those who need affordable housing the most in Michigan (and soon beyond!) can be sure to find not only quality developments but also deep, personal support in the homes that MHT has created. CREA is humbled and honored to further our shared vision as proud partners of Van and MHT alike.

 

MHT Housing, Inc.

Since 1990, MHT Housing, Inc. has developed and operated over 50 affordable housing communities. They are active supported of the communities in which their properties are located, and are continuously striving to make a difference.

Impact Portfolio:

  1. M Training Center

  2. Summer Workforce (SWF) Program

  3. Spring 2021 Food Donation

  4. The Search for Toilet Paper