Tag Archives: Vanessa Solivan

Vanessa Solivan Empowers Trenton Families Through New Beginnings Housing Program

By Rebecca Heath

When Trenton native Vanessa Solivan, a mother of three who had long battled housing insecurity, became overwhelmed with rent costs amid the pandemic, the home health aid began to look for avenues to become a homeowner. But as she reached out to numerous organizations, she quickly grew frustrated over the lack of opportunities for low-income individuals and families. 

“Why aren’t we giving people an opportunity? We’re working just as hard. It’s not our fault that these jobs are barely paying a living wage,” Solivan said in an interview with The Streetlight. “Housing should be a right. Why here in the richest, wealthiest country in the world are working mothers with children finding it difficult to follow their dreams?”

Determined to make a difference in her community, Solivan began working with the City of Trenton to spearhead the New Beginnings Housing Program, an initiative that seeks to provide City residents with abandoned houses, and the financial tools to redevelop them, according to The Trentonian. Approximately 1,000 properties around Trenton are abandoned, and while the program is starting small, Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora told PBS that expansion is on the horizon to address this crisis. 

“I’m very excited about [the initiative], and I see it having a lot of potential and just kind of inspiring people,” Solivan said. 

Through the pilot program, Solivan gained ownership of 651 North Clinton Ave., her childhood home. 

“It’s not finished yet but I’m still proud to have it the way that it is,” Solivan told The Trentonian.“I’m following in my mother’s footsteps who is the first generation to own a home.”

My mom was the first person in our family to be a homeowner, so to see her working and being responsible and paying the bills and doing everything that she was supposed to do, to this day, I could only want to be like her and be a homeowner,” she said. 

After the construction of her home is completed, Solivan said that the program will move forward with recruiting other families. Through Solivan’s journey, the program facilitators will work out the “kinks,” to ensure a smoother process for future participants. 

“I’m definitely happy with the progress,” Solivan said of the construction process. “We recently just got word that we will start our demolition phase pretty soon. I think that’ll be a very exciting time for not just my family, but the community, because everybody is watching. And they’re very interested to know about the program. So I will be excited to show that we’re moving along, that the program is still alive.”

While people of all ages have expressed interest in the program, Solivan said the population they are primarily targeting is families with children. She emphasized that prospective participants should be employed and have documentation, such as state identification and a W-2 form.

“I want us to be careful with the people that we are choosing and make sure that we have the right candidates that will really want to be a homeowner,” she said. They want to be in the city. They invested in the city. Their children go to the schools here.”

Solivan said that while participants must be able to prove they are ready to embark on homeownership, they aren’t looking for people with a perfect credit score. 

“If that was the case, you wouldn’t need our help,” she said. “We can help them build up their credit and work on all those kinds of things through the financial literacy and the homeownership program.”

While Solivan’s recent advocacy work has centered around housing security, the 38-year-old is no stranger to using her voice to empower her community and catalyze change. In 2018, Solivan began advocating for better pay for home health aids, in addition to fighting to reduce lead in Trenton’s water, soil and air. 

Solivan has also become involved with the Trenton Restorative Street Team, where she has aided in efforts to promote justice and peace in the city. As a board member of the Princeton Justice Initiative, Solivan has also recently hosted share fairs in hopes of providing free legal services for individuals who cannot afford a lawyer. 

Solivan said she considers herself a spokesperson for mothers like herself in Trenton. Though she acknowledged that working with the government to develop the program has been a slow and tedious process, she stressed her determination to continue fighting on behalf of her community. 

“You have to keep pushing. You have to keep fighting. You have to keep making awareness,” she said. “I feel like I’m the voice for the unspoken, these moms that can’t get out there and fight because they’re too busy working to take care of their families.”

Although Solivan is first and foremost committed to supporting the city of Trenton through her initiative, she doesn’t intend on stopping there. She said she hopes to eventually bring the New Beginnings Housing Program to other states, and one day, expand internationally. 

“I feel like I’m slowly but surely spreading my wings and hopefully, I’ll be able to take this to other cities, other states and across the world,” she said. “There’s a lot of people living in poverty and suffering from homelessness, but I always feel we have to start at home first. I made a commitment to my community and I want to be a woman of my word and continue on helping the people.”

As she prepares to further expand her efforts, Solivan emphasized the power of numbers in making her ambitious dreams a reality. 

“Hopefully we can get more investors and more people involved in the city and just rebuild,” she said. “I mean, I can’t do it all alone. New Beginnings can’t do it all alone. But if we all work together, do you know how powerful that would be? So that’s what I’m calling for. In the city of Trenton, we need to come together more and work together.”