BRATTLEBORO — A federal program is aiming to make a difference by propelling people towards a better future.
The Brattleboro Housing Authority was one of three housing authorities in Vermont to receive grants through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Family Self-Sufficiency Program. Residents in public housing and Section 8 programming are eligible to receive assistance in finding jobs or returning to school in order to reach certain goals.
"It's really oriented around work and getting the tools necessary to get work in the field that they're interested in," said BHA Executive Director Christine Hart. "One of the most important parts of the program is that in public housing and Section 8, when your income goes up, your rents goes up. So there's an unfortunate built-in disincentive to work because your rent goes up."
Through the program, that increase in rent instead goes into an escrow account until the participant reaches their goals. Then they have access to the money.
According to Hart, the BHA has a minimum of 75 participants in the program at any given time. So far, three families have left the program and purchased homes with the money they had saved.
"Right now, we have residents that have escrow balances from a low of $9 — so somebody who just started — to $10,000," said Hart. "And we have five current participants with balances over $1,000."
So it's no wonder why Hart says her organization is "very pleased to be refunded" for the fifth year in a row. The grants are awarded on an annual basis.
"I think that speaks well of our program and that should be an incentive for people to apply," said Hart. "It can be a huge help to a family or anybody."
The $138,000 grant funded two coordinator positions in Brattleboro. The coordinator's job is to "work really closely with the participants and employees in the Brattleboro area to hook people up with good employment and help maintain their employment as they start out in the workforce," Hart said. Goals are established and reviewed periodically with a coordinator.
Hart said her organization plans to do more outreach on the program. A Facebook page can be found by searching Brattleboro Housing Partnerships Family Self-Sufficiency Program.
"We can definitely take in more people," said Hart. "We find that in many cases, while Brattleboro is so fortunate to have so many services, it's that link between the individual and finding the actual service that is missing. So Family Self-Sufficiency, another thing they do is provide that link."
Hart also hopes to make stronger ties with employers and entities in the community.
Rhonda Siciliano, public affairs officer for the HUD New England Region, said grants were awarded in each of the New England states. Housing authorities must apply for the funding.
"It pays for the salary of a Family Self-Sufficiency coordinator. The person works with the families on this program, helping with job opportunities. Home ownership opportunities are built into this as well," said Siciliano. "This is one of the most successful programs we have seen."
Awarded across the United States was $75 million. Altogether in Vermont, groups received $474,683.
"It really is a tremendous program in helping people gain independence," Siciliano said. "For the amount of money that goes into the program, the value that comes out of it is much greater."
Siciliano recalled hearing a story at an event in Massachusetts from a woman who was a veteran who became homeless after leaving the military service, but eventually joined the program and was able to graduate from college, purchase a home and start her own successful catering business.
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