Published: Monday, September 26, 2011 1:45 AM MDT
Mohave Daily News
KINGMAN — For the fourth time in recent years, Mohave County Community Services Department has received a Most Valuable Partner (MVP) Award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Phoenix Field Office.
The county department’s Housing and Community Revitalization Division received the 2011 award for its Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program Thursday, Sept. 15, in Phoenix “in recognition of exemplary practices in promoting HUD’s initiative of strengthening the nation’s housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers.”
This award honors the county’s Family Self Sufficiency and Home Ownership programs, said Robert Gonzalez, program coordinator. The Housing Division received the same award in 2007 and MVP awards for its Owner-Occupied Housing Rehabilitation program in 2009 and ’10.
“We have one of the most active programs in the state as far as family self sufficiency and home ownership participants,” Mohave County Housing and Community Revitalization Manager David Wolf said.
“Since we implemented the program in October of 2005, we’ve had 27 closings,” Gonzalez said. “That’s more than $3 million in purchases we have added to the Mohave County economy.”
The programs are funded with “HUD dollars that come to the county Housing Authority,” Wolf said. “We are funded annually. Those dollars fund the coordinator’s position and provide the housing assistance for the families. In the Home Ownership Program, instead of paying a portion of a rental payment, the dollars pay for part of a mortgage payment.”
According to the county’s website, the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program “provides assistance to low-income participants…. Subsidy is tied to the tenant, not the housing unit.” The Family Self Sufficiency Program “provides the opportunity for Section 8 families to work on goals to reach economic self sufficiency while their rent is subsidized….” The Home Ownership Program allows renters to “purchase a home and use the subsidy toward a mortgage instead of rent.”
There is a rigorous process of preparation, training, budgeting, credit building and saving that each participant must go through to reach the goal of home ownership, Wolf said. “We work with the housing specialists in identifying Rental Assistance families that would be good for the Self Sufficiency and/or Home Ownership programs. They must volunteer and really want to work, very hard, toward self sufficiency and/or home ownership.”
Of the 27 Home Ownership Program closings, “11 of those families have moved completely off subsidies,” Gonzalez said. “They are fully self-sufficient home owners. On the Family Self Sufficiency Program, we’ve had 66 successful graduates. These are individuals and families that have moved on and, in most cases, created an open voucher for someone else to come into the program. So without any new funding, that creates opportunities for other families and individuals who might be on a waiting list to move into the program.”
Participants who are already in the Section 8 Rental Assistance Program are eligible for the other two programs.
“We create an opportunity for these individuals and families to make that move,” Gonzalez said. “The programs are voluntary and open to all participants including elderly and disabled people who might be on a very-low fixed income. We work to identify barriers and how to overcome them. Those barriers could be needs for education, employment training, credit building and savings. This is a five-year program that allows us to extend it up to seven years to complete goals; moving these people into a situation where they are completely self sufficient and can move off subsidies or they can make that transition to home ownership. That is the area where we have had our most success and is what we were recognized for by HUD.”
These programs are not handouts to people who won’t work.
“Our clients are very dedicated people who are willing to work hard to improve the quality of their lives, become self sufficient and not be a burden on the taxpayers,” Gonzalez said. “Right now there are 41 Family Self Sufficiency Program participants at all levels of achievement toward their goals.”
Mohave County’s successes with these programs have been watched closely by HUD.
“They were really astounded by the percentage of home owners that we have been able to accomplish here in Mohave County considering the relatively small number of vouchers we receive,” Wolf said. “We are outpacing some very large jurisdictions – Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, Tucson and Yuma. They each have many more vouchers than we do.” “They are very interested in our outreach efforts, in how we coordinate our services and how we bring committed participants into our program; participants who are ready, willing and able to succeed in our program,” Gonzalez said. “We make it very clear in the beginning that anyone coming into our program has to work hard. They are told, ‘If you want to reach this goal, it will only happen because of your motivation and efforts.’ We have many single-parent households. We have individuals who are taking care of families while working and going to school. Dedicated people become successful.”
All participants in the Home Ownership Program must start out by taking an eight-hour, HUD-certified class.
“Housing America and the Western Arizona Council of Governments (WACOG) are working with us on the training class,” Wolf said. “The Mohave County Board of Supervisors, County Manager Ron Walker and Deputy County Manager Susie Parel-Duranceau, Community Services, have been very supportive of the housing programs. Robert (Gonzalez) has done an excellent job as coordinator. A lot of the successes of these programs are because of Robert’s dedication to the families who are working to become self sufficient and to achieve the American Dream of home ownership.”
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