Since 2010, Housing Action Corps has placed hundreds of AmeriCorps VISTA members with organizations across Illinois. AmeriCorps VISTA members in our network dedicate a year of full-time service to projects that build organizational capacity, advance housing opportunities, and strengthen communities. Last year, our network expanded to match members of our Housing Counseling Corps initiative with housing counseling agencies nationwide. While the majority of Housing Action Corps members serve in Illinois, six Housing Counseling Corps members are serving with organizations in Arizona, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Housing Counseling Corps is an initiative that builds the capacity of housing counseling programs to help more people secure safe and affordable homes, while establishing a pathway for AmeriCorps members to become HUD-certified housing counselors by the end of their service. During a year-long term, Housing Counseling Corps members learn about the profession, develop relationships, and complete projects to expand the services of a housing counseling agency. They also take Housing Action’s Housing Counseling Career Path training to prepare for and pass the HUD Housing Counseling Certification Exam.

In the last few months of their service, two of our national Housing Counseling Corps membersJada and Naarareflected on their experiences with the program, as well as how AmeriCorps service is impacting themselves and their communities. 

After serving as an AmeriCorps member in her hometown of Philadelphia, Jada Washington enrolled for another year of service as a Marketing & Housing Counseling Outreach VISTA at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Savannah Area (CCCS) in Savannah, GA. Although she considered other AmeriCorps programs, she decided that AmeriCorps VISTA roles would help her gain the nonprofit professional development she was looking for. 

“I had been volunteering for about 14 years and wanted to utilize my love for media studies and communications to help an agency grow in their marketing initiatives,” Jada describes. “Homelessness and poverty is something that has touched my heart for a long time, so when I found Housing Action Illinois, the only question was to find a location that had a position open for housing counseling and marketing. I would say I found CCCS, but the truth is, they found me! All of the skills I had were exactly what they were looking for and it almost felt like kismet.”

Colorful mural of two people loading a couch into a moving truck with Chicago Furniture Bank on the side

Similarly, Naara Silva found Housing Counseling Corps when she was searching for ways to transition to a nonprofit role after working in the mortgage industry. She is serving as a Housing Counseling Community Outreach VISTA at Affordable Housing Centers of Pennsylvania (AHCOPA) in Philadelphia, PA. 

“I used to work for a mortgage servicing company. During the pandemic, when borrowers in certain states were falling behind, I was required to advise them to speak with a HUD counselor,” Naara remembers. “When I decided to pivot to nonprofit work, working with a HUD-certified organization focused on preserving affordable housing felt like a perfect fit. It just so happened, the role I was interested in was an AmeriCorps role.”

While immersing herself in the housing counseling field, Jada was surprised to find out there are a variety of resources available to help people with housing and financial management that are not widely known. 

“Housing counseling is like a secret tool that should not be so secret,” Jada says. “I have learned a lot—from laws to how to approach and guide clients. A lot of [housing counseling] is about knowing resources and things that already exist to fully support your clients. People come to you in need and you have to be a problem solver.” 

Both Jada and Naara have taken trainings and studied for the HUD Housing Counseling Certification Exam. While Naara is scheduled to take her exam in July, Jada took the test twice and successfully became HUD-certified in April. Members serving in Housing Counseling Corps, as well as all Housing Action Corps members, are eligible to attend Housing Action’s trainings for housing counselors during service.

“To prepare for the HUD exam, I was able to utilize various forms of training assistance from Housing Action, as well as shadowing within my host site, and then using the online module on the HUD website. All of these things made it easier to study for the exam, but it also made it feel like I wasn’t alone,” reflects Jada. “When I passed and became a certified housing counselor, it brought me great joy. Not only did I get to cross something off of my VAD (VISTA Assignment Description), but I was now able to be more hands-on when assisting clients.”

Part of Jada’s AmeriCorps project includes collecting stories from people who have received housing counseling services at CCCS. Hearing these testimonials made it clear to Jada that the positive reach of housing counseling goes well beyond the individuals receiving services. 

“I have seen how couples come in needing help and leave knowing how to budget, save, and get out of situations where debt forces them to choose from feeding their family and paying off a credit card or loan,” Jada describes. “I have been able to see the beauty in the small tasks and how one small action has a big wave of a ripple effect—not only in one home, but within the community.

At AHCOPA, Naara is building partnerships, compiling resources, and conducting outreach to help launch their Homeownership Success Program. This program aims to demystify common concerns of new and first-generation homeowners, as well as provide tips for budgeting mortgage payments and repairs. The first workshop, which was booked within a week of registration opening, will reach more than 100 households in Philadelphia in July. 

Naara can continue expanding this program next year, as she is re-enrolling for another year of Housing Counseling Corps service at AHCOPA. While she is motivated to keep learning about the housing counseling field, AmeriCorps VISTA service is also a bridge for Naara to take the next steps in her future legal career. 

“I enjoy doing outreach for my host site! Working full-time as a housing counselor would be rewarding, but I plan to attend law school,” Naara says. “It would be more difficult to balance studying and applications if I had a full caseload with my host site, so I decided to do a second year of outreach [with Housing Counseling Corps].”

When asked why someone should consider Housing Action Corps service, Naara had one piece of advice: Do it! “It’s a fantastic opportunity to gain experience in nonprofit work and the housing justice advocacy field,” she continues. 

As Jada finishes up her service in August, she is also starting an exciting journey as a new parent this summer. In the future, she is interested in continuing to work in the housing counseling field and also pursuing further education in business administration and marketing. 

For Jada, the most meaningful parts of her AmeriCorps service are the relationships and skills she has built over the past year. She views service as a unique opportunity to find your direction in life. 

Come into this with your eyes open and with a heart for what you’re doing,” Jada recommends. “[AmeriCorps service is] not just another thing to put on your resume, or do for the benefits. The experience can last a lifetime if you stay focused and stay the course. Connect with the other AmeriCorps members…Connect with the staff—learn from everyone around you and take the time to truly find your direction for the years to come.

About Housing Action Corps

From launching new programs to growing volunteers and donors, Housing Action Corps members spend a year of service helping their host sites enhance their services, resources, and partnerships to meet community needs in new ways.

We are recruiting for 35+ Housing Action Corps positions. Members serve full-time with organizations in our coalition from August 2024 to August 2025. 

Learn more about serving in Housing Action Corps »