The Hagerstown Housing Authority has been awarded two grants totaling $150,784 to help reduce the number of people who receive public housing assistance.
Dianne Rudisill, resident services director for the Hagerstown Housing Authority, said the grants will help pay the salaries and benefits of three coordinators in the housing authority’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program.
“It’s the best program we have,” she said. “It moves people toward self-sufficiency and out of the system.”
The program matches coordinators with qualifying participants to identify and achieve attainable goals, such as a college education, job training and credit repair, Rudisill said. Those goals must be accomplished in five years.
During that time, each participant is required to invest a portion of his or her income in an interest-bearing escrow account, she said. If they complete the program, participants get the money at the end to buy whatever they want.
“But they’re encouraged to purchase a home or a vehicle or something of that magnitude,” she said.
Rudisill said people who receive Section 8 vouchers or live in public housing can volunteer to participate in the program. To be eligible, they need to maintain a job and be the head of the household. At this point, 108 people — 72 from public housing and 36 from Section 8 housing — are active participants.
The average income of a person increases from $2,698 at the beginning of the program to $26,036 at the end, Rudisill said. The average escrow account at the end of the program amounts to about $11,407.
Hagerstown resident Kelly Mills said she was a single mother with two children living in Section 8 housing in 2004.
She said she wanted a better life for her children and decided to volunteer for the program. Since then, she has earned two associate degrees and is five classes short of a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
“My credit was not so great when I started the program,” Mills said. “By the end of the program, I was able to purchase a vehicle.”
Now, the 32-year-old Mills works for the Hagerstown Housing Authority as one of the Family Self-Sufficiency Program’s three coordinators.
She said her own experiences have helped her to connect with the participants. Many of them are reluctant to join at first, Mills said, because they aren’t comfortable parting with their government benefits to begin the journey toward self-sufficiency. She conceded that losing those benefits during the initial part of the program will make it seem like taking a few steps back.
“It is baby steps, but you will get there,” she said. “The last year and a half, everything just starts to fall into place. To be able to tell people I was in this program and was able to turn my life around in five years — it is just amazing.”
Mills said she was proud to be able to give her children a normal, middle-class lifestyle with unlimited potential.
“It’s not if they’ll go to college, it’s where they’ll go to college,” she said. “I won’t even let them know that public assistance is an option.”