Vanessa Solivan: From Unhoused to Homeowner & Community Activist
Vanessa Solivan’s journey to homeownership in her hometown of Trenton and realizing her dream of becoming a community activist included a time in Housing Initiatives of Princeton (HIP)’s Transitional Housing program back in 2018.
HIP assists individuals and families experiencing housing insecurity in the Princeton area build a sustainable future by providing transitional housing, personalized case management, and a network of community support.
Vanessa found her way to HIP after she and her three kids were evicted from their home in a Trenton Housing Authority apartment for falling behind in rent. As a home health aide, Vanessa is one of the “working poor” whose income fluctuates widely depending on the needs of the health agencies that hire them. The stress of this instability was impacting everyone in the family.
Unfortunately, HIP had no available units when Vanessa first found us. But HIP and Vanessa stayed in touch, and when a unit became available months later, Vanessa and her three kids moved into one of HIP’s 2-bedroom townhouses in Princeton. The Solivans had found a place where they could take a breath, live in a clean, safe home they could afford, and focus on what they needed to flourish.
Vanessa and the kids were part of the HIP family and lived in the townhouse for almost three years (including some of the hardest months of the pandemic). During that time, Vanessa expanded her skillset through EKG tech training, paid for by HIP. When her car broke down, HIP facilitated a car donation; when legal services were needed, HIP connected the family to the Princeton Justice Initiative; when Vanessa said she needed to find more work, a HIP volunteer helped her with her resume and HIP connected her to a second home health employer in the area. In short, when obstacles threatened to derail her, Vanessa and her kids knew they could turn to HIP’s case manager and hands-on board for support.
As Vanessa’s time with HIP was coming to an end, she went to the City of Trenton and petitioned to own the condemned house adjacent to her mother’s home. She felt strongly that she belonged back in Trenton in that house and that the City should find a way to rehabilitate this and the many other abandoned houses for other families struggling to make ends meet in this area. Not only did her advocacy succeed, the City of Trenton named the program after her and the Solivan New Beginnings Home Ownership Program was born.
But, like with many new government programs, it took years of additional advocacy to make the program a reality. The City had promised Vanessa the house, but could not give any tangible timeline. Vanessa turned to HIP to help her navigate the City’s process, support her in advocating for herself, and help her find a temporary place to live while she waited for the purchase to go through and for the rehabilitation to be completed. And there were others who helped Vanessa get to the finish line: Lee Parasole of PJI, TrentonMayor, Reed Gusciora, City attorney, Julie Murray, and volunteer attorney, Nancy Lottinville.
Vanessa had a vision for herself, her family, and her community. One where a hard-working single mother can feel safe in her home and her children can reach their potential and thrive. She has worked hard to get where she is today and HIP is proud that we played a role in getting her there.
Former Chair, Housing Initiatives of Princeton