FORT WORTH -- Latoya Lyons and her children arrived in North Texas in 2005, Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans who were soon living in an apartment off a subsidized housing voucher.
Lyons was uncomfortable letting the kids play in the neighborhood, and the family members usually crammed themselves into their small living space.
So after she bought her 2,000-square-foot home with a fenced back yard this year, she has had to occasionally remind her three children that they can use the yard.
"I'd say, 'Out -- everyone out,'" Lyons said. "It's our first real house, so it took us a little while to adjust. But they love it."
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Lyons said she bought the home with the help of two Fort Worth Housing Authority programs designed to put residents with vouchers on a path toward homeownership and self-sufficiency. With housing vouchers, also known as Section 8, residents pay 30 percent of their adjusted gross income on rent.
Lyons and other clients participating in self-improvement programs were recognized Wednesday at a resident achievement ceremony.
"She is an example of someone working really hard to stand on her own," said Deana Broussard, who coordinates the program.
The number of clients who have signed up for the programs has grown recently, authority officials say. Five years ago, only about five people completed the programs. Now 20 to 25 are completing them after the authority put a full-time member in charge. Roughly 5,000 people receive vouchers, so authority officials are encouraging more to sign up.
Lyons said both programs require a serious time investment. To participate in homeownership, she attended orientations and home-buyer counseling and worked to become qualified for a mortgage loan. The authority helped with credit counseling and homeownership classes.
"My credit actually wasn't as bad as I thought," Lyons said. "I just had to clear a few small things up, and I was ready to talk to lenders."
Once a client is approved for a loan and buys a home, the authority pays a percentage of the mortgage for up to 15 years on a 30-year note. The client pays 30 percent of adjusted gross income. The arrangement is better for the client and the community, said Selarstean Mitchell, the authority's vice president for assisted housing.
"By owning a home, the clients are creating wealth for their own families instead of money going straight to a landlord," she said.
In the self-sufficiency program, Lyons signed a five-year contract with the authority that requires her, among other things, to get more education. For some clients, that means obtaining a GED diploma, finishing vocational training or getting a bachelor's degree.
Ideally, the education will lead to a better job with better pay so the client can pay more of the rent, authority officials said.
As an incentive, the money the housing authority saves when the client pays more rent is placed into an escrow account that the client receives upon completion of the five-year program. That account is often worth several thousand dollars.
"Many can take that money and use it to become homeowners," Broussard said.
Lyons said she got certified to perform medical coding. She started a home medical-billing business in which she helps clients pursue outstanding debts. She is also taking online courses to earn a bachelor's degree in healthcare administration, she said.
She encourages other families to take advantage of the programs.
"No one wants to rent their home forever," she said. "You want to own a home and be on your own. That's the goal."
Alex Branch, 817-390-7689