SRHA receives grant

Published 9:55 pm Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority has received a $104,340 grant to help its residents become more economically self-sufficient.

The grant was included in $1.8 million awarded to housing authorities across the state, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Nearly 100 families currently are enrolled in Suffolk’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program, said Mike Smith and Phyllis Harrison, the two coordinators of the program.

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Smith said 20 Suffolk families have completed the voluntary five-year program, and 16 of those have purchased their own homes.

“We work with the families one on one to remove any barriers,” Smith said.

A job fair held at King’s Fork Middle School every summer, as well as job readiness skills and other sessions, are part of the program. The authority partners with local organizations such as the S.T.O.P. Organization and Medical Training of Virginia LLC to get program participants trained for careers such as tax preparer, nurse aide, phlebotomy technician and pharmacy technician. The program pays tuition for some students and gets grants to cover the tuition for others, Harrison said.

“We’re linking the families up to the resources necessary for economic independence,” Smith said.

Harrison said one young lady in the program volunteered at SRHA to gain work experience and then obtained a job through the Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Smith said the program started nationwide in 1990 thanks to an initiative of President George H.W. Bush. He urged any public housing or Housing Choice Voucher Program resident to apply.

“We’re constantly looking for people to enroll into the program,” Smith said.

Program participants sign a contract that requires the head of household to obtain employment and that no member of the family is receiving cash welfare assistance at the end of the five-year term, according to the HUD press release. An interest-bearing escrow account is established by the public housing authority, and the amount credited to it is based on increases in the family’s earned income during the program.

The family receives the escrow funds at the end of the term if it successfully completes the program. The money can be used for any purpose, including paying off debt, paying educational expenses or a down payment on a home.

Locally, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk and Virginia Beach all received grants also.

“As the ‘Department of Opportunity,’ HUD is supporting folks with job training and computer access,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro in the press release. “These grants will link people to the tools they need to compete and succeed in the workplace and become self-sufficient.”