Creating a Cycle of Success

5 min read

The Multiple Benefits of YouthBuild

In 2010, a team of ten 16- to 24-year-olds showed up with their tools at a two-story wood-framed building in Providence, Rhode Island. Led by a licensed general contractor, the young adults put skills they had recently learned to work. They mounted new cabinets and counters in the units’ kitchens, installed new vanities in the bathrooms, replaced exterior doors, and re-stained the property, which is owned and managed by The Community Builders. A different story brought each of these 10 young men and women to that job site, but they all had two things in common: they lived in federally-subsidized housing and they were students in the local YouthBuild program.

“They were well-supervised, they did good work, and they did it on schedule,” said Tony Berthod, Regional Director of Operations for The Community Builders, a Boston-based affordable housing developer.

The Community Builders ensured that the YouthBuild crew had the supplies they needed, and notified residents of the work. YouthBuild’s licensed contractor oversaw all other aspects of the project. Berthod said that working with YouthBuild reduced the cost of the project by more than $30,000.

The YouthBuild program in Providence, is just one of 265 YouthBuild programs in 45 states, as well as programs in the District of Columbia and U.S. Virgin Islands. YouthBuild is designed by and for young people who are low income, never finished high school, and are unemployed. It helps these young adults break the cycle of poverty by supporting them in finishing their high school education and learning employable skills, while also engaging in community service and leadership training.

The YouthBuild model, which started 37 years ago in East Harlem, and has since spread around the US and to 20 other countries, is constant around the country. Program participants spend half of their time in the classroom and the other half of their time getting on-the-job training while building affordable housing, like they did in Providence, and constructing other community assets.

As indicated by the success of The Community Builders’ project in Providence, developers’ partnerships with YouthBuild are hardly altruistic. They provide concrete benefits both to the young adults who learn valuable skills and the property developers and owners who get skilled, dedicated workers.

“The work they do is high quality and cost-effective,” said Bart Mitchell, President and CEO of The Community Builders. “Our staff is extremely proud of our YouthBuild partnership, both in terms of the quality of housing we provide and the way we provide it.”

Exciting and Empowering Residents
Berthod and Mitchell both said they have seen the YouthBuild partnership work as an effective way to engage residents and make them feel good about where they live.

“We hosted an event for residents to come learn about YouthBuild’s participation in the project in Providence,” said Berthod. “They were obviously happy about the improvements, and even more excited that they would be made by young adults learning trades.”

Trevor Samios worked with YouthBuild while he was on staff at The Community Builders. When he became Director of Resident Services at Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), another Boston area affordable housing developer and property manager, he sought to create a similar partnership between POAH and YouthBuild.

In addition to benefiting residents, Samios said he has seen programs, like YouthBuild, stabilize rent collection, reduce resident turnover, and mitigate against bad debt, unnecessary legal fees, and security issues on properties.

YouthBuild has been part of a multi-faceted effort by POAH to engage and empower their young residents. He noted that in the properties where they have implemented programming to support employment, they are seeing fewer youth reapply to live in affordable housing when they turn 18.

“We’re really interested in stopping generational poverty,” Samios said. “We are seeing three or four generations of poverty in some of our properties. We also see a lack of access to jobs for young men.”

Samios has brought YouthBuild representatives out to POAH’s properties to talk with young residents, most of whom are 14-15 years old, about opportunities in the program. He emphasized that the support YouthBuild offers its participants and alumni is key to their success. POAH has seen a trend among residents starting full-time work for the first time. Many of them are learning to juggle the costs of transportation, day care, and utilities. When the federal benefits they receive are modified or end as a result of their new income, residents have difficultly adjusting. YouthBuild offers mentorship that assists residents in successfully navigating this process.

Training the Workforce We Need
Once again, YouthBuild’s support is beneficial to property developers and owners as much as it is to their residents. The Community Builders has already hired two YouthBuild alumni as technicians. Samios explained that there is a comfort in knowing that YouthBuild alumni have both the skills and the support network they need to succeed.

“If they run into trouble, they have YouthBuild as a backstop,” Samios explained. “This is a major asset for human resources.”

As part of their partnership with YouthBuild, Samios sees POAH promoting the employment of YouthBuild alumni in their own organization and in other organizations with whom they contract work. He said there is even a possibility that YouthBuild could develop training programs that meet developers and property managers’ specific needs.

“We hear from owners and managers of affordable housing that they see real value in partnering with nearby YouthBuild programs,” says David Abromowitz, Chief Public Policy Officer at YouthBuild USA, the national non-profit that supports the network of local programs. “We hope to expand the number of such partnership in the near term. Even for a young person who has learned great skills through YouthBuild, entering the job market is a challenge. Developers can help with that.”

Abromowitz encourages developers and owners who are interested in learning more about YouthBuild to reach out to him directly at 617-684-3452 or You can also learn more at

Thom joined National Housing & Rehabilitation Association (NH&RA) in 2004 and currently serves as its as Executive Vice-President and Executive Director. NH&RA is a national trade association and peer-network for affordable housing and tax credit developers and related professionals including: investors, lenders, public agencies and professional advisers. Thom directs the association’s day-to-day operations including legislative and regulatory advocacy, committee activities, conferences and events, publications, financial management and strategic planning. Thom also serves as the Executive Director of the Tennessee Developers Council, a state-wide trade association for affordable housing developers and professionals active in Tennessee. In 2013 he spearheaded the launch of NH&RA's Preservation through Energy Efficiency Project, a major educational initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Thom also serves on the Board of Directors for International Center for Appropriate & Sustainable Technology (iCAST) as well as the Advisory Board for its ResourceSmart program, a turn-key, cost-effective, green rehab provider for multifamily affordable and market-rate housing communities and nonprofit facilities. Thom is a frequent speaker at affordable housing, sustainable development and tax credit industry events and has been published in a variety of industry journals including Tax Credit Advisor, Independent Banker, and the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credit Housing. Thom also serves as the Associate Publisher of Tax Credit Advisor, a monthly magazine for tax credit and affordable housing professionals and is an Executive Vice-President at Dworbell Inc., a boutique association management and communications firm in Washington, DC. Thom was previously employed at a national lobbying firm focusing on financial services and technology issues. Prior to moving to Washington, Thom worked in media relations in the New York State Assembly and as a research assistant for New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Thom graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University with a double major in Political Science and History.