23 Aug 2014
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Local Agencies Help Low-Income Residents Find Housing

Whether renting or buying, people can find help.

Local Agencies Help Low-Income Residents Find Housing Local Agencies Help Low-Income Residents Find Housing Local Agencies Help Low-Income Residents Find Housing

Families whose total income is less than the $58,000 median income for Clarke County can get financial help from several different housing programs in Athens.

Athens Clarke County (ACC) is providing more and more rental or owner-occupied affordable houses for citizens with low or even no income.

According to a 2007 analysis by the ACC Planning Department, more than half the people living in the geographic center of the county fall into low or moderate income categories.

These families have many things to worry about, and several organizations can help remove housing insecurity from that list.

The Section 8 program is administered locally by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), a state agency with federal funding.

Section 8, sponsored by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides vouchers that subsidize the cost of housing for low-income people who qualify.

When slots open up in the local program, DCA advertises widely and notifies local agencies that serve seniors or people with mental health issues, said Glenda Wiley, field operations manager for DCA’s regional office in Athens. People who need housing must call at a certain time on a certain day to get in line for Section 8 benefits. Only 100 people at a time are placed on the list.

"[Our rule is] first come, first served," Wiley said. The program sometimes helps people with no known source of income, but they still have to come up with $50 a month toward rent.

At present, 444 families live in Section 8-sponsored housing in Clarke County.

Families who need an affordable place to live can also turn to the Athens Housing Authority.

Officially, the Athens Housing Authority can provide public housing for families who earn as much as 80 percent of the median income for Clarke County.

In fact, the organization mainly serves families who earn 20 to 55 percent of median income, according to Marilyn Appleby , who is marketing and communications director as well as property manager of Athens Housing Authority.

Athens Housing Authority is a local government agency whose annual budget comes half from federal funds and half from rents paid by tenants.

People can apply for an apartment at any time. They must be willing to provide information such as a social security number, income verification, credit report and criminal background records.

 Approved applicants are put on the waiting list until housing becomes available. People who are turned down have the second chance to qualify by requesting a hearing.

Families who occupy houses offered by the Athens Housing Authority pay 30 percent of their monthly household income as rent. If two family members work, for example, and together they earn $1,800 each month, their monthly rent would be $600.

A third local agency, the Athens Land Trust, has a different focus from Section 8 or the AHA. This non-profit agency lends a hand to low income families who want to buy their own house. It mostly focuses on home ownership and serves citizens who have a household income that’s 50 to 80 percent of median income.

Houses sold by Athens Land Trust cost less than the open market because people buy only the house, not the land on which it sits. But they need to pay $5 per month to lease the land.

"The gap between what people could afford and housing prices became bigger and bigger and fewer people could afford to buy," said Heather Benham, housing director of Athens Land Trust.

The Athens Land Trust narrows the gap between market prices and what families can afford by taking the land out of the equation.

For some, buying a home through the Land Trust is the fulfillment of a lifetime dream.

"You are allowing them to have an American dream, and it gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment of their life,” said Teri J. Evans, community economic development coordinator for ACC. "[The importance for people is] being able to have what anyone else has, even though they may not have the equal economic opportunities that other people have."

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