Saturday, July 15, 2000

From welfare to homeowner

Single moms take advantage of rent incentive program

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Pam Ross has survived some hard times.

        The Covington resident and mother of two had a marriage that went bad, leaving her finances a wreck. For seven years she bounced around public aid, working a string of temp jobs and handing out surveys at shopping malls.

(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        But not anymore. Ms. Ross has been working as a secretary with the Covington Independent Public School district for three years. And last week she collected more than $11,500 from Covington's public housing agency after graduating from its Family Self-Sufficiency program.

        She plans to use the money toward the purchase of a house for herself and two young children.

        “I've always lived in rental properties,” she said. “This is like a dream come true for me.”

        As a participant in Kenton County's Section 8 housing program for seven years, Ms. Ross has had to put 30 percent of her income toward housing. As her pay increased, so did her rent.

        But five years ago, she enrolled in the self-sufficiency program, which matches the monthly rent increases dollar for dollar and places that money in an interest-bearing account.

        And when Ms. Ross achieved certain goals — completed job training, secured transportation and full-time work — she became eligible to receive the money set aside for her.

        The $11,564 she collected Wednesday is the largest amount Covington has given out in the program's 10-year history.

        The program has handed out checks to only about 10 Covington residents so far, but participation has risen since the federal department of Housing and Urban Development eased its requirements two years ago.

        “It is a cash incentive to do better,” said Mildred Rains, Covington's Section 8 supervisor. “There are a lot of people who need a hand getting up and out (of poverty).”

        Michelle Mackay used to be one of those people. A struggling single mother, she entered the self-sufficiency program two years ago, mostly for the money. But now, she said, it's the support she gets from her case worker at the Welcome House of Northern Kentucky that has proven equally valuable.

        “Being able to talk with someone on a monthly basis was real important to me,” Ms. Mackay, 30, said.

        Now that she has a steady job coordinating group housing for the disabled, Ms. Mackay meets her self-sufficiency goals. On Wednesday, with her proud father watching, Ms. Mackay received a $4,639 check. She'll use the money to move out of her Ludlow apartment and find a house. Her 7-year-old son is demanding a back yard.

        “Owning a home means Christopher doesn't have to keep quiet for the man who lives downstairs,” Ms. Mackay said.

        Before the rules changed, participants in the program risked losing their Section 8 benefits if they didn't meet their self-sufficiency goals in time, said Bev Merrill, the program's coordinator at Welcome House.

        But with that requirement gone, housing officials expect participation to increase. Covington has 25 enrolled families and has room for another 25.


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