Becoming a homeowner is a big milestone in life, and in Arlington, that milestone is not so difficult to reach for people of all background with the help of the Arlington Housing Authority.
Through different programming offered by the authority, going through the process of owning a home in the city is made less daunting for those who are not as well off financially.
Housing voucher programs serve more than 3,600 households in the city, or 2.6 percent of the population, and gives housing assistance to people who are working to build up their standards of living.
The program is 100 percent funded federally, through contracts with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at $30 million. Programs are also administered through the HUD on behalf of the city at $5 million.
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In fact the Housing Choice Voucher Program is the authority’s largest program, serving more than 10,000 people, executive director of Arlington Housing Authority David Zappasodi said.
The program is a rental housing assistance program giving clients the opportunity to find a living space of their choice. Possible tenants are interviewed, assessed for eligibility through federal guidelines, given a voucher and 60 days to find housing within their community.
From there, tenants notify the housing authority of their choice, agree to a deal with the landlord and schedule home inspection.
Zappasodi said tenants will pay roughly 30 percent of their income toward rent. The rest of the payments are made with assistance by the housing authority.
The formula is the same for all clients of all eligible incomes, he said.
Despite being able to serve so many in the community in need of help, Zappasodi said the need within the community is far greater than the financial resources obtained by the authority.
“The fact of the matter is, we’re using 100 percent of the resources we have to help these people in need,” he said. “However when you look at it, the need is much greater.”
One former voucher recipient, Maria Guzman, has one of Zappasodi’s fondest success stories.
Guzman saved money until she was able to enter the voucher program to rent her own home. Eventually, she decided to participate in the family self-sufficiency program, designed to help provide a pathway toward long-term career goals for participants.
Family self-sufficiency currently serves about 150 families, according to the Arlington Housing Authority report.
Guzman wanted to work in healthcare. For the five years the program contract entailed, social workers worked with her and her family to create a “road map” toward that goal, Zappasodi said.
“It can get pretty hard going through the program,” Guzman said. “Especially when you’re working, sometimes you don’t have time for the classes required, so it got difficult at times.”
She got her education and soon became employed at Arlington Memorial Hospital. Her eventual savings qualified her further to the homebuyer assistance program, where she was able to purchase her own home for her family.
The program provides $7500 for down payments and closing cost assistance for new homeowners, Zappasodi said. Individuals must qualify for a mortgage through local lendors, complete a homebuyer education class, find a realtor and provide a check that helps toward close out payments.
Participants in the assistance program are typically people who have jobs, good credit and can maintain a standard of living, but must live paycheck to paycheck and can’t accumulate enough savings to pay for home closing costs, Zappasodi said.
But Guzman wants the general public to know that she worked hard to get to where she is now.
“I think a lot of people don’t know,” she said. “They’re not informed as to what these programs do. They’re not free. I worked hard to get to where I am.”
Guzman said she remembers seeing a comment on a website about the program, stating these program participants are getting government money.
“It’s really discouraging, looking at a comment like that,” she said. “It’s like, really? I had to work hard for what I got, the government wasn’t giving me anything.”
She said she wants people to know that if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll be able to make it.
To celebrate, the authority created an official ribbon cutting ceremony to welcome the family to their new home.
“We don’t do a ribbon cutting ceremony for everyone,” Zappasodi said. “But it was very appropriate in this case — cases like hers really make it very rewarding to be in a position where we can experience life change in people we are serving.”
Guzman remembers that day and the pride she felt at a job well done.
“I had a feeling of relief and accomplishment at the same time,” she said. “I accomplished something in my life I didn’t think I’d get to at that point.”
Currently, Guzman lives in the same home in Arlington and her three children, the youngest of which is 20, all live on their own. She still works at Arlington Memorial Hospital as a patient care technician in the emergency room, and she said she loves what she does.
However all programs have been closed to new applicants since 2011. Those who are already on the waiting list, another 10,000 applicants, are selected based on local preference as the program expands and homes become available.
Zappasodi said within the next two months, officials will send postcards to all waiting list applicants reminding them to update their information and living status. He said typically, roughly 50 percent or more postcards come back as undeliverable because of lack of updated information.
From there, Zappasodi and other officials will make an assessment on whether to open the waiting list to more people or not.
“You never know what will happen in life,” Zappasodi said. “Tomorrow some calamity could occur and all the things we take for granted could be removed, and we could be in need of help. We’re so happy to have the resources to be able to help these people out.”
Guzman echoed his statement with her own.
“As life goes on, eventually my kids will have somewhere they can always come back to if something were to happen to me,” she said.
the housing authority will also sponsor the Homeless Housing and Services Program, which gives assistance to families at risk of losing their homes. The program is part of a $289,000 grant by the city which would provide short term rental housing assistance, homeless prevention and case management services.
Contact Zappasodi at David.Zappasodi@ArlingtonTX.gov for more information.