Programs designed to assist the poor and others in need

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 17, 2006

Suffolk residents like Ruth Golden and Oliver Branch don’t have to suffer in unsafe conditions. There are a variety of agencies and organizations throughout the city and beyond that can give people the help they need, both in an emergency situation and in the long-term.

The Department of Social Services

This department works to help protect and promote self-reliance with Suffolkians, as well as act as a safety net to meet their basic needs. For people like Golden, who find themselves without heat because they can’t afford it, Social Services has an Energy Assistance Program, said Christine Bishop, assistant director of the department.


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They accept applications from the second Tuesday in October through the second Friday in November for fuel assistance to help with home heating costs, furnace re-starts, late charges, delivery charges, installation charges, and connection or re-connection fees.

Crisis Assistance is another program intended to meet a household’s emergency-heating need when no other resource is available, she said. They accept applications from Nov. 1 through March 15 for one-time-only heat security deposit; portable space heater for temporary use, payment for emergency shelter, and/or heating equipment repair/purchase. Another arm of that program provides assistance with the purchase of home-heating fuel and payment of the heat utility bill, based on the availability of funds, Bishop said. They accept applications for this kind of help starting on the first workday in January through March 15.

Cooling Assistance provides purchase or repair of cooling equipment and/or payment for electricity to operate cooling equipment. To be eligible, a household must contain at least one vulnerable individual who is age 60 or over, disabled or under age 6. Local departments of social services accept applications from June 15 through Aug. 15. Assistance is based on the availability of funds.

To be eligible for any of those programs, applicants must be a resident of the city where they are applying for help, be responsible for the heating or cooling expense, and have a limited monthly gross income. For example, a single person can make no more than $1,062 a month and a family of five can bring in no more than $2,535 a month, according to a flier from the department.

The Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority

This organization’s mission is &uot;to develop and operate affordable housing that will provide decent, safe and sanitary homes and a suitable living environment to low and moderate income families of the City of Suffolk.&uot;

As such, they administer a variety of programs, including Section 8 housing. For people like Ruth Golden, though, there is the Owner-occupied Rehabilitation Program, said Charles Felder, SRHA development director. People who fall within certain income guidelines can apply for this program to get help with repairing or replacing their roof, plumbing and other household needs.

Unfortunately, federal funding for this program has dwindled over the past few years, and currently there is a waiting list of some 80 city residents in need, Felder said. However, those who apply today could begin the process within a year.

With the Owner-occupied Rehabilitation Program, a housing inspector examines the home, creates an official to-do list, and the work is put up for bid to local contractors. A lean is placed on the home for the value of the work being done, but that is only to ensure that people do not sell their homes for profit after it is fixed up, Felder said. The owner must live in the home for a certain period of time before the loan is forgiven, he said.

SRHA also has an Emergency Program in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and funded through grants to help people who need immediate home repairs, Felder said.

Qualifying emergencies include plumbing that suddenly stops working, severe termite damage where the floors have or are about to drop out, someone using multiple electrical heaters to regularly heat his home, or other such events that would render the house unsafe, he said.

Currently, there is not a waiting list for this program.

The Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project (STOP)

The STOP organization, based in Norfolk, works to eradicate poverty and the social ills that can lead to it, including inadequate housing. STOP has a variety of housing services, but the city of Suffolk does not qualify for all of them. Those that are available for citizens include Weatherization and the Indoor Plumbing/Rehabilitation Program.

The Weatherization Program focuses on making homes more energy efficient, thereby saving residents money on utilities, said Tyrone E. Sessoms, program administrator with STOP.

Qualified low-income residents, through work regulated by the Department of Energy, could have a variety of weatherproofing done to their homes, including complete insulation, wrapping water heaters, repair/replacement of heating systems and more, Sessoms said.

This program is subject to income restrictions, which are based on the number of people in the home. For people who own their home, the service is free. For renters, their landlords must pay a percentage, usually less than half, of the work costs, Sessoms said.

Homes must meet certain standards, too, such as the amount of air that escapes in and out. Those that are dilapidated beyond repair obviously would not benefit from weatherization. In those cases, rehabilitation is necessary. For that, people would need to contact the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority, he said, though STOP could partner with SRHA to weatherize a house that that organization is rehabbing.

The Indoor Plumbing/Rehabilitation Program is designed to help provide complete indoor plumbing and housing rehabilitation for low-to-moderate-income families or individuals.

Sessoms said this program is for homeowners who do not have indoor plumbing. The first step is to bring the home up to code. For those that are beyond repair, the program includes funds to tear it down and build a new one, Sessoms said.

Homes within reach of city water and sewer are hooked up to it, he said, but those outside city services require wells and a septic system. Based on the condition of the land, the systems can be quite expensive, he said. Some projects can be as much as $60,000.

Because large amounts of money can be spent on rehabbing the home and installing plumbing, the program is available only to homeowners and requires a deed of trust, he said. A 10-year lean is placed on the home, and owners must repay it through minimum monthly payments of $25. This is to ensure that the owner stays in the home for a period of time, instead of selling it for a profit after it is fixed up, Sessoms said.

Those interested in either STOP program can call the numbers listed in the information box, visit the Suffolk office, request that an application be sent to their home, or call to arrange a home visit from a STOP official, he said.

Building Suffolk, Inc.

This is a non-profit, charitable organization devoted to eliminating sub-standard housing and homelessness throughout Hampton Roads; and to making adequate, affordable shelter a matter of conscience and action.

&uot;Building Suffolk, Inc is founded on the conviction that every person should have a simple, decent, affordable place to live with dignity and safety,&uot; said Angela Koncz, founder.

As a small, grassroots organization without the layers of management and policies and procedures, they are able to effect change quickly based on the amount of funds they can garner. Similar to and born from Habitat for Humanity, Building Suffolk works to build new homes or rehabilitate existing ones for people in need, she said.

They work to help not only the less fortunate, but especially those like Ruth and Ollie who are ignorant of where resources lie. They operate through fundraising, grants and donations, and as a small but growing organization, they have taken on only a small number of projects. But Koncz said she hopes that will change as they grow and become more established.

Applicants will have to meet economic guidelines, show a need for housing and be able to meet credit guidelines for standards to hold a mortgage, she said. They will also be expected to invest a minimum of 400 hours of sweat equity into construction of their houses.