Program opens door for housing aid recipients Escrow can be used to buy homes, cars to win independence


It's been a long, tough road back for Daisy Barney.

Out of work and on welfare for six years after surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer, the Baltimore County grandmother got training and a job through the county's welfare-to-work program.

And on Thursday, the 57-year-old day care worker is to take another major step toward independence: the purchase of her own home, made possible through a federally sponsored program that is helping 2,200 people statewide gain self-sufficiency.

"I didn't expect I could ever get one," said Barney of the house, a modest, brick Middle River rowhouse she plans to live in with the two grandchildren she is raising. "It's a wonderful thing that's happened to me."

Hers is among the 311 Baltimore County families involved in the Family Self-Sufficiency program, which allows people who use federal rent subsidies to save money in escrow as their incomes increase and they move closer to full independence.

Based on a pilot effort in Charlotte, N.C., the 5-year-old federal program enrolls about 60,000 people nationally. Baltimore County, which got involved in December 1996, is among 13 Maryland counties and cities with the program, including Baltimore City.

In Baltimore County, it is part of a multipronged effort to get residents off cash assistance before the initial two-year federal time limit runs out in January under welfare reform regulations.

"There's nothing better than seeing someone buy a house or get a car. It's a great reward," said Sherrill Ruley-Carr, the program coordinator.

The program focuses on residents who receive federal Section 8 rent subsidies. As they get jobs and take over more of their monthly rent expenses, public assistance money that would have gone to pay rent is funneled into an escrow account.

After at least a year of progress, participants can use the money they have saved toward a home, a car, college or other expenditures that will help them gain their independence.

Barney, who will be among the first Baltimore County residents to gain homeownership through the program, was able to cover her $393-a-month rent through her pay from two jobs as a day care teacher. Her escrow account grew to about $4,000.

Program praised

Participants praise the program.

Dana Small, 29, the mother of a 12-year-old, bought a used car with more than $1,000 she saved in the escrow program.

"You need a car, period. You just need a car," she said, adding that she plans to save for a house. "It's really a sign of accomplishment," she said proudly. "You don't get it for doing nothing."

For Barney, the program offered a way off welfare for someone well-acquainted with hard work.

The oldest of nine surviving children of South Carolina sharecroppers who moved to Baltimore in 1956, she spent much lTC of her youth caring for younger brothers and sisters while her mother and father worked.

Went on welfare

Married twice, widowed and then divorced by the mid-1980s, she raised her four children and has raised two of her nine grandchildren since 1991.

Ten years ago, after 13 years as a hospital housekeeping worker, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, had surgery and chemotherapy and was forced to leave her job and go on welfare.

Four years ago, she began working her way back to independence. She earned a certificate in day care teaching at Essex Community College and began working at two programs run by the nonprofit Community Assistance Network near her rented home in Middle River.

"When I started working again, I built my pride up. Nobody wants to stay on social services all their life," she said.

In addition to her escrow money, Barney has received a $5,000 loan from Maryland's Settlement Expense Loan Program that will pay for closing costs, moving expenses, a refrigerator and emergencies. The money will be repaid when Barney sells the house.

One of Barney's younger sisters, Janie L. Lee, a real estate agent, helped her find a house and a bank loan. Lee praises her sister's hard work.

"She's just a good person," Lee said. "She's always been the caretaker for us when Mama worked. She's always been caring for other folks. This gives her a chance to get something she wants."

Pub Date: 5/25/98

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