MEIGS COUNTY — The Meigs Metropolitan Housing Authority will be moving their offices.
Officials say the new location at 4441 General Hartinger Parkway in Middleport will provide much-needed office space and a conference room.
Currently, the Housing Authority has an office beside the Meigs Election Board. As programs and responsibilities have been added to the Housing Authority purview, space has become an issue.
According to Brenda Leslie, Meigs County Housing Authority executive director, the new facility will allow more privacy and ease of access for program participants and more storage space for records.
“We are very excited to be moving,” she said. “There simply wasn’t enough space in our current office.”
Leslie has been executive director of the Housing Authority since January 2013, but has been working with the agency since she returned to Meigs County after serving in the military. She has seen first-hand the struggles families face when they relocate or have lost their jobs.
“Sometime all anyone needs is just a little help, a bit of assistance getting back on their feet as they try to find jobs, housing and child care.”
The Housing Authority is part of the Housing and Urban Development program, and one of its roles is to provide rental assistance to low-income households through the Housing Choice program. Participants can move within the continental United States and remain in the program, allowing portability as households move from county to county and state to state to pursue a job or education without losing their housing assistance.
“This program is a stepping stone for many participants,” Leslie said. “While more than half of the people we serve are elderly or disabled, others are in the program on a temporary basis until they can finish their education or find a job to provide for their families. The goal for these individuals is to achieve economic independence.”
The program is based on availability; Meigs County is allowed 125 vouchers, meaning 125 households can be served. There is more need in the county than availability, both in terms of vouchers and available rentals.
“We have more need than vouchers.” Leslie said. “And there is always a shortage of quality rentals in the area.”
The process for being accepted into the program requires meeting strict standards of need. Once accepted into the program, the participant is required to find a rental that meets HUDs housing quality standards.
Rich Griffith, executive director of the Vinton County Housing Authority, is also an inspector for Meigs. Once the rental is located, Griffith inspects the property and either approves the property, rejects it or provides a list of needed repairs to the landlord. If the landlord agrees to the improvement, Griffith will then sign off on the property.
The next step is to assist the participant with the lease agreement. The amount the participant pays for the rental is based on income and family size. The Housing Authority reviews their ability to pay the portion of the rent they are responsible for, and if everything is in order, approves the rental property.
Properties are inspected on a yearly basis and leasees are responsible for maintaining the property according to the lease agreement. Currently, the program is full and the agency has closed the waiting list until at least spring 2016.
Griffin gave an example of a family who benefits from the program: a husband and wife with one small child, both are in nursing school full time, with opportunities ahead upon graduation for employment, home ownership, and a chance to give back to the community. What this family needed was help to achieve their goals, exactly what the Housing Choice program was designed for.
Another program Leslie and Griffith spoke of was the Family Self-Sufficiency Program. The goal is to have the individual or household off the program within five years, having integrated into the economy and the role of homeowner.
An example of a participant in this program would be an applicant who has been accepted into college or tech school but needs help with housing during their education. Once they graduate and accept a job in their field, they move toward becoming self-sufficient. As their income increases, they are required to pay more for their housing. The difference between the amount they initially paid and the amount they are then paying as a result of increased income is put into an escrow account. The money is released free and clear when the participant graduates from the program.
The money can also be used during this time for anything deemed necessary to their employment, such as auto repair and clothing, but cannot be depleted.
The program is also designed as a teaching opportunity as renting participants learn what it takes to maintain and care for a property, including household budgeting.
When participates “graduate” from the program, the goal is to be in a financial position to qualify for a loan to purchase their own house.
“We wanted to be able to give people a goal and purpose,” Leslie said, “and to reward their efforts at self sufficiency. Many people are struggling and want to move forward with their education and employment, and this allows them to have some help to meet their goals.”
“We have success stories,” Griffith said. “Those are very fulfilling.”
The Home Ownership Program accepts credit-worthy households and bases eligibility on income when applying for a loan. Through USDA Rural Development Loans, they can be pre approved for a loan with a bank that agrees to accept payments from the Housing Authority on their behalf.
There are no limits on the number of qualified home buyers in the program, which includes a course in home ownership. Currently, Meigs has four household in the program.
Leslie and Griffith feel that as a result of their collaborative efforts, Meigs has benefited. With limited resources available, both work closely with other agencies as well to provide help to people in the area with needed assistance.
“We are here to help,”Leslie said. “We want to see families succeed.”
Contact Lorna Hart at 740-992-2155 Ext. 2551