EMU receives $250K grant to develop family self-sufficiency program at Hamilton Crossing
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
As the demand for affordable housing continues to increase, a $250,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation will fund a newly created program aimed at helping Ypsilanti Hamilton Crossing residents to break the cycle of poverty.
The $16 million redevelopment project of Hamilton Crossing is set to be completed in 2013, with half of the 144 units being occupied by Nov. 1.
The family self-sufficiency program was created by Eastern Michigan University and a coalition of community partners to help residents connect with available economic, educational and health resources available in the surrounding communities.
The Washtenaw County Office of Community Development contributed $500,000 in grants to the Hamilton Crossing construction project and also contributed between $20,000 and $30,000 to the development of the family self-sufficiency program.
Mary Jo Callan, Community Development Director, said the county believes that giving families some economic opportunites to develop skills, helps them get a leg up.
Callan said across the county, there's a large need for affordable housing. A 2011 report on the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development's website shows that 6,062 subsidized housing units are available across the county.
"We aren't meeting the need,"Callan said. "... The Ann Arbor Housing Commission opened up its Section 8 waiting list a month ago and they got almost 15,000 applications."
Callan said meeting the need for affordable housing will only occur if the county and communities continue to make it a priority while continuing to make key investments in projects such as Hamilton Crossing.
"We want to create a quality amount of affordable housing for people," Callan said. "It's a fundamental component of quality of life."
Hamilton Crossing, formerly known as Parkview Apartments, will be a mix of market-rate and subsidized housing units. There are 68 project-based vouchers available for Hamilton Crossing that will be assigned to low-income families that will lower their rent cost.
Individuals who receive a Section 8 voucher will be required to participate in the five-year program.
Russ Olwell, Director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Communities at EMU, said the program was created to teach families on the south side of Ypsilanti to become more self-sufficient and to help children break the cycle of poverty.
"Several people who were involved in renovating what was Parkview, approached the university about getting some help and developing a family self sufficiency program for residents," Olwell said. "EMU got involved as a partner in the program. We started planning a year ago."
Olwell said planned services will include early childhood development resources, childcare, transportation, counseling and personal development, job development, links to benefits and insurance programs, parenting skills, financial and computer literacy and personal health.
The program seeks training in technology and computer support for youths, as well as access to computer hardware at below market prices. EMU already has a program, Digital Inclusion, which teaches youth how to install internet services and offer low-cost computer supplies.
Olwell said an onsite social worker will help residents access job training in high-need fields. Residents also will have an Individual Development Account set up to help families save for future housing or education needs. There will be training in financial literacy as well as a mini-incubator program for potential businesses.
"As part of the program, they will be building up an escrow account of money that will go to them when they graduate from the program," Olwell said. "A family will set some economic, education and help goals that they want to reach."
Olwell said families aren't forced to leave after five years and can receive another two years within the program, but the goal is to help them move on to potentially buying a house.
"Part of the escrow account is that they build enough money to buy a house or move somewhere else," he said. "The goal is to make people not feel trapped."
Olwell said before families are chosen to receive a voucher, they are interviewed to determine whether the program is a good fit for them.
"My hope is that this is a really good place for families and then I hope it can serve a model for other communities," Olwell said.
Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber said while it's important for people to have affordable housing, access also should be made to training that can further the quality of life for residents. Schreiber said this will be the first family self-sufficiency program implemented in the city.
The Ypsilanti Housing Commission plans to implement similar programs at its other sites throughout the area, Schreiber said.
"I think it makes all the sense in the world," Schreiber said. "This is just another example of great partnerships all throughout the county."