ND Founders Profile #7: Notre Dame Alumna Helping to Restore Community Neighborhoods

Author: Lillian Piz

Richelle Delia Richelle Delia, Ph.D. (chemical engineering, class of 2008) founded Housing Joint Venture, Inc. in 2017


Company Founded: Housing Joint Venture, Inc. Year Graduated: 2008
Title: Co-founder Degree: B.S., Chemical Engineering
Location: Columbus, OH Residence Hall: Lewis Hall and Walsh Hall (senior year)

From conducting materials science research to working in building materials manufacturing, Dr. Richelle Delia’s focus has never been solely on physical substances. Instead, she says, it’s been on the intangible, positive impact her work could have on the lives of others. Delia accomplished this across a range of job positions, but most recently brought this mission to life through the co-founding of Housing Joint Venture (HJV), an online real estate education and development firm. HJV specializes in restoring vibrancy to neighborhoods by refurbishing vacant properties into rent-ready housing. Investors can learn how to build their own real estate investment portfolio or participate in one of the company’s projects. 

Delia’s love for materials science and, in particular, biomaterials, took her from the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, to the University of Texas at Austin where she pursued a Ph.D. in chemical engineering researching nerve cell regeneration. During her doctorate, Delia struggled with the fact that her fundamental research was far from implementation and would likely have little benefit to people that were currently living with neural degenerative diseases. She learned about the importance of helping address immediate needs in addition to developing longer-term systemic solutions when she participated in the Urban Plunge and other service projects while at Notre Dame. Experiences like these showed her that to forsake an immediate need for the sole focus on long term solutions left the current population with no relief. To this end, she received a Fulbright Scholarship to investigate the clinical applications of her research in the context of diabetic foot ulcers in the Barbados. Her experience in materials science later landed her a job at Owens Corning doing polymer science research where she worked on their insulation products.

While working on technologies to address the nervous system, she was keenly aware of another systemic need: housing. Immediately after graduating from Notre Dame, Delia, who was 21 at the time, purchased her first house following a move to Texas for her doctoral program. The experience of renting out rooms to fellow students got Delia interested in the wealth building opportunities of real estate. It was not until five years later however, when she moved to Columbus, Ohio, that she realized just how big the opportunity for budget friendly housing was. “You could buy houses in Columbus for one fourth of what I paid for my grad school house in Austin. [I thought] ‘this level of opportunity is unprecedented’”, said Delia. This marked the beginning of what would grow to become a large real estate portfolio spread across Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Detroit. 

It was about much more than houses for Delia; the heart of Housing Joint Venture is about building community. As their portfolio grew, so did Delia’s realization that quality housing is neither accessible nor affordable for all. She distinctly recalls visiting one of her company’s apartment complexes and being struck by the profound simplicity of seeing the space transformed. She remembers thinking, “if we hadn’t taken a risk to bring a property from vacant to vibrant, then this community would not exist and these people would not have a home.” 

Moments like these caused a shift in mission behind Delia’s investments and ultimately inspired her and her husband John Delia Jr. to found Housing Joint Venture to enact transformations like this at scale. The company plans to expand its reach by investing in communities across the Midwest and eventually cities along the southeastern seaboard. Housing Joint Venture empowers others to make these impact investments for both their own personal wealth goals and for the benefit of the local community. Delia describes how aspiring investors engage with their educational programming and participate in investment opportunities that produce both financial and social returns. 

True to her lessons learned at Notre Dame, Delia is working to address immediate housing needs as a housing provider while tackling systemic housing affordability with HJV.

When asked for a piece of advice for young entrepreneurs, Delia emphasizes, “be humble and vulnerable.” In order to truly understand the problem at hand and whether your solution is effective, Delia adds that “[you have to recognize that you] don’t know everything. Be willing to listen and proactively seek out other people’s advice.”