By David Northern, Executive Director Lake County Housing Authority
Money: One thing most feel they never have enough of. For Lake County’s most vulnerable, sometimes this lacking proves to be the biggest barrier to gaining affordable housing as they cannot afford security deposits. To address this, Lake County Housing Authority launched a collaborative Security Deposit Assistance Program for Family Unification Program (FUP) participants, joining them with the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) and Housing Counseling programs. This program allows applicants to receive funding for Security Deposits where financial barriers exist. Applicants also are provided Housing Counseling and enrolled in the FSS program, designed to help achieve goals toward independence.
What Prompted The Development Of The Program?
From its inception, the Family Unification Program’s objective has been to provide funding to local housing authorities so that they may in turn provide housing choice vouchers to families and youth who are involved in the formal child welfare system and lack adequate housing. Several of the program’s primary focus points are the empowerment of families and youths to resolve their own problems, effectively utilize service systems, and advocacy for children with schools, public and private agencies and other community institutions. The program also seeks to prevent child abuse and neglect and the unnecessary separation of children from their families.
In the autumn of 2011, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) initiated a policy that sought to remove FUP vouchers at Housing Authorities across the nation due to under-utilization of these vouchers. When LCHA was contacted by HUD stating that either changes be made or funding would be cut (specifically the number of vouchers available), the agency decided to embark on a collaborative effort to put these vouchers to good use.
LCHA recognized the importance of helping people enter into and remain in secure housing as both a way of battling homelessness and as the first step of homeownership. This is particularly critical for the participants of the Family Unification Program. A major barrier of the program, however, has to do with participants not being able to rent because of security deposit issues. It is essential that LCHA help renters find the right source of assistance.
The objective of this new pilot program would provide funding to eligible applicants for use in emergency situations to prevent homelessness or to assist persons in low income families in securing a more affordable rental housing unit. Launched in July 2012, the program is now fully up and running for participants in the FUP program.
The Role Of The Agency
The LCHA Housing Counseling and Family Self-Sufficiency programs have teamed up to ensure that the Family Unification Program not only gets off the ground but meets the needs of Lake County citizens.
Through this collaborative effort, FUP participants with zero income and/or other financial barriers that made it so were unable to afford a security deposit, are referred to the LCHA Housing Counselor who partners with them to apply for security deposit assistance. The Housing Counselor contacts the landlord on the participant’s behalf to negotiate the terms of the deposit. Applications are filled out then by both the participant and landlord accepting the terms of the agreement and the negotiated amount of the deposit. Terms of the agreement include but are not limited to Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program enrollment, Housing Counseling services, a repayment agreement, refunds, maximum deposit amounts etc.
By retaining these additional FUP-specific vouchers, LCHA has had the opportunity to make an even greater impact in the number of families that the agency is able to assist. The Security Deposit Program has assisted in reaching the goals of not only the Family Unification Program but also the Housing Counseling and the Family Self-Sufficiency programs, which encompasses aiding families in need through the provision counsel and establishment of goal setting initiatives. This combination brings awareness to our FUP participants so that they can realize where they may be struggling and find practical, applicable methods to improve themselves and transform these areas from points of weakness into points of strength.
Currently, LCHA has provided assistance to twenty (20) families, which amounts to a total of approximately $17,920. Without this assistance, the four (4) families currently being served through this program would not have been able to complete a lease agreement for a unit as they lacked the finances required for the security deposit.
The Lake County Housing Authority’s investment of $50,000 from reserve funding has been applied in the piloting of this program for this Security Deposit Assistance program. Through incorporation of other already existing programs at the agency, LCHA was able to add an enhanced service to the constituents that our agency serves in Lake County with limited excess expenditure. Additionally, through this means of aiding FUP participants that previously had proven difficult to serve, LCHA was able to maintain a funding structure that would have otherwise been potentially eliminated by HUD.
The Innovation of the Program
This program is innovative because it combines three separate, unique programs and merges them together in such a way as to meet a rather significant blockade that potential clients were finding themselves faced with and assisting them both in a more immediate, shorter term sense but then also working to tailor their focus and motivations towards ultimately achieving self sufficiency through the gaining the knowledge they may need in order to help fulfill a basic need, specifically of safe and secure housing. It took a problem that was small in scope yet larger in the broader scheme of things and found a viable, creative way to help those in need with not merely a hand out but the tools necessary for a hand up.
Additionally, it fits into the recent modification to LCHA’s Administrative Plan to support the development of a homeownership program for the residents that the agency serves. From a relatively simple and straightforward concept, the agency reinvented the notion of interdepartmental team work that will serve the clients within Lake County through a more comprehensive and collaborative approach.
Continuing The Success
To date, this program has shown itself to be very successful and would be easily replicable in any Housing Authority as it simply merged pre-existing programs in a new unique and collaborative way. Through such a measure, the LCHA was not only able to preserve valuable allotted vouchers for constituents of the county but this initiative also enabled the agency to take a path towards a longer term relationship with the clients we serve. By offering these clients with valuable resources and hands on, continual coaching, LCHA hopes that we will continue to establish a strong foothold by which our clients can gain knowledge that will allow for a better tomorrow.
LCHA plans to continue offering this Security Deposit program as there is no additional funding required due to the nature of incorporating the already existing programs within the agency. In terms of replicability, this program would be easily duplicated by any agency looking to utilize funding that may potentially face recapture as well as support a homeownership program, regardless of its size. The value that such a program offers is invaluable as it not only provides a solution to overcome a relatively small but significant hurdle that clients face, but provides them an additional rich resource to help them move towards independence and self-sufficiency.