FD Housing Agency gets self-sufficiency grant

Fort Dodge Housing Agency received a $102,766 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The grant is for family self-sufficiency programs.

“Our program is offered to our Section 8 participants,” said Jessica Barkhaus, FSS coordinator. “With our family self-sufficiency program, we connect our participants with resources and services in the community. The participants set goals and we helped them to achieve their goals.”

Barb Michaels, FDHA executive director, said the program coaches clients to be more self-sufficient.

“One of the issues we face is, when people get out of Section 8, they get housing assistance,” Michaels said. “The goal of this program is to ultimately get them off of assistance, to improve their employment status, to improve their family income, so assistance is no longer required.”

The transition can be a difficult one, Michaels said.

“One of the things that happens is, as they start getting high-paying new jobs, they lose assistance, so their assistance from us decreases,” she said. “That can be scary for a family that maybe the salary hasn’t increased significantly, just kind of a step up, but they see their assistance from us going down and all of a sudden it’s a panic.”

This program, Michaels said, is a tool to keep families motivated in increasing their income.

“What it does is, as your income goes up, a portion of the assistance you would have lost goes into an escrow account for the family,” she said. “And that escrow money is given to the clients at graduation with the intent that it be used for a down payment on a house, purchase of a car. We’ve had people pay for nursing certification with that grant.”

Already, the program has had two clients graduate in the year’s eight calendar days.

“That’s people who have met their goals, increased their income, no longer are dependent on housing assistance. They’ve graduated, and they’re given the escrow money from their account,” Michael said. “It’s really a great program to help essentially wean people off of housing assistance.”

FDHA staff meet with clients at least once a month to set and achieve goals, while offering other services and assistance.

“We are connected to the services in the community,” Anna Reid, RSS coordinator, said. “We’ve helped people get grant monies or education certifications. We go out and help people with child care services, mental health, food, transportation.”

The grant is significant not only for FDHA, but for the Fort Dodge Community, Michaels said.

“It helps us offset some of the costs, like providing the DART bus and tokens, and some of the other partnerships we have. We originally started with just one FSS coordinator, but because of our success we’ve increased our participation in the program and have been able to employ a second coordinator.”

In December 2012, FDHA received a Shelter Assistance Fund grant for $38,785 from the Iowa Finance Authority. The grant is for agencies that provide assistance to people who are at or near homelessness.