Leader Blues

Saturday, October 03, 2009

TOP STORY >> Housing authority strengthens family

Jacksonville Housing Authority executive director Phil Nix presents a $1,695 grant to Jacinta Robinson for completing the five-year family self-sufficiency program as Gisela Williams, Section 8 coordinator, also congratulates her.

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

Jacinta Robinson of Jacksonville was excited Wednesday morning when she was presented with an escrow check for $1,695 from the Jacksonville Housing Authority after completing the authority’s five-year family self- sufficiency program.

“I’ve been encouraged to have something to look forward to at the end of the program and it worked,” Robinson said.

She completed the program along with three other families. The housing authority has one family still in the program with three years remaining.

The goal of the program is to help families get off public assistance, including welfare and food stamps within five years.

The self-sufficiency program is part of Section 8 federal housing assistance. With Section 8, the amount of rent people pay to their landlord is limited to 30 percent of their income.

The rest is paid by the housing authority.

Robinson, 25, said the self-sufficiency program has motivated her to improve her life.

Robinson is a single mother raising her 6-year-old son, Cameron.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development began the self-sufficiency program in the late 1990s.

HUD mandated that the Jacksonville Housing Authority have five families participate.

Robinson joined the Section 8 housing assistance program and moved to Jacksonville in 2004. She was living with relatives in Little Rock, where she was born and raised.

She’s gone to college since joining the self-sufficiency program. In the spring of 2006, she enrolled as a full-time student at Pulaski Technical College.

While attending classes, she worked part-time at T.J. Maxx as a sales clerk.

She graduated in May from Pulaski Technical College with an associate arts degree.

She is now a data analyst with Entergy in Little Rock.

Robinson will attend the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the spring, she said. She plans on earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“(The family self-sufficiency program) has allowed me to graduate from college, to get a good job I am happy about, and to better my life for me and my son,” Robinson said.

“I’m hoping at the end of all this that I can be a psychologist, make money and continue being self-sufficient,” she said.

Robinson plans to stay in Jacksonville.

“I like it here. The crime rate is low and it is a great community,” Robinson said.

The Jacksonville Housing Authority also helps with a share of the tenant’s rent.

As part of the family self-sufficiency program, the participant signs a contract with the housing authority.

The tenant then sets a goal with the housing authority on how they will use the escrow money once it’s received.

As the tenant’s income increases by attaining more education and finding higher-paying jobs through the program, the housing authority deposits part of its assistance funds into an interest-bearing escrow account.

Should participants’ income drop lower than the initial level at the start of the program, no deposits from the housing authority are made to their account.

During the five-year period, the tenant is required to meet with the housing authority staff each month for a review of the participant’s progress.

If tenants don’t finish the self-sufficiency program or do not complete the requirements, they do not receive the funds.

The money in the escrow account is returned to the housing authority.

When participants get a higher-paying job, the housing authority will stop giving financial assistance if their income goes beyond the original rental payment plan.

The participating family is then taken off the self-sufficiency program.

They are given the accumulated amount of money in the escrow account to spend it as they like.

Before funds are awarded to the family, the housing authority verifies the tenant is off all public cash assistance with the Department of Human Services.

Although Robinson has completed the program, she will still have rental assistance through the Section 8 until her income increases to the point that the Jacksonville Housing Authority cannot assist her anymore.