A network of strategically located stand-alone computer terminals stretching 150 miles from San Diego to San Bernardino will transform access to professional housing counseling and other services ranging from foreclosure prevention to tax preparation and credit counseling through an innovative Virtual Counselor Network (VCN). The 10-terminal VCN will cover San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. It will be operated by the San-Diego based Housing Opportunities Collaborative (HOC) with the support of a $200,000 grant from Citi Community Development. The computer terminals will be placed in a variety of easily accessible locations in San Diego and across the Inland Empire. The HOC’s goal in establishing the network is to increase access to a diverse array of community services and resources for all populations, especially low income and underserved individuals and families in San Diego and the Inland Empire. Aligned with HOC’s commitment is the development of the technology and infrastructure to connect low to moderate income and rural communities to a Virtual Counselor at participating agencies via the Internet. Additional resources will be leveraged among the network of agencies to offer a virtual “one-stop” array of services, eliminating the need to travel to multiple locations. “Citi’s support for the innovative Virtual Counselor Network provides San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino County residents with access to technology and specialized counseling services that are often not widely accessible through traditional counseling centers, via technology or in their communities,” said Bob Annibale, Citi’s Global Head of Community Development. “Ensuring universal access, but particularly for low income and underserved communities, to housing, tax and credit counseling through the Virtual Counselor Network and the Housing Opportunities Collaborative will empower individuals with valuable advice and information in multiple languages, including English and Spanish, on available services that can be critical when planning and making household financial decisions.”
According to DataQuick, current research shows that 8,000 homeowners across the affected area have received foreclosure notices in recent months, while 16.2 percent are unemployed and another 16 percent live below the poverty line as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau - American FactFinder."As nonprofit organizations find new ways to use technology to help more people, I believe this program will empower our local communities and provide innovative solutions to help meet the diverse needs of residents throughout the region," said San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria. “Through our partnership with Citi, we will have the opportunity to utilize technology to provide timely, relevant and sustainable solutions to problems facing our communities,” says Housing Opportunities Collaborative President & Executive Director Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor. "At the same time, we will achieve a triple bottom line benefit through the VCN by helping more residents access diverse services faster, minimizing the travel time and lowering the costs for nonprofit service providers to serve more customers." Local residents and homeowners can learn more and access the Virtual Counselor Network now at www.VirtualCounselorNetwork.org. About the Housing Opportunities Collaborative The Collaborative is a tax exempt non-profit organization consisting of HUD approved housing counseling and fair housing agencies, housing related nonprofits and business organizations, and governmental agencies that support all aspects of housing rights and responsibilities. The Collaborative serves as an information clearinghouse by consolidating housing related information and making it easily accessible to the public and partners. The Collaborative also acts as a clearinghouse for its partners by conducting outreach events to educate and provide housing counseling services to the public. The Collaborative also conducts capacity building workshops and training for its partners in order to standardize counseling. About Citi Community Development Citi Community Development (CCD) is leading Citi’s commitment to achieve economic empowerment and growth for underserved individuals, families and communities by expanding access to financial products and services, and building sustainable business solutions and innovative partnerships. Our focus areas include: commercial and philanthropic funding; innovative financial products and services; and collaborations with institutions that expand access to financial products and services for low-income and underserved communities. For more information, please visit www.citicommunitydevelopment.com.