Leaving a legacy
Housing Authority program helps first family purchase home
— For Rita Bowers, being a first-time homeowner is about more than the walls and rooms that make up the physical house; it’s about the legacy she can leave behind and the example she can set for her 14-year-old daughters.
“I have to have something more, I have to be able to give Myla and Myra something
more,” she said. “I have to show them regardless of what your circumstance is, regardless of whatever you do in life, if you stay focused and if you set your mind, you can accomplish anything.”
Bowers, who moved into her home last month, is the first person to purchase a house as part of the “Living to Leave a Legacy” program run by the Elkton Housing Authority that helps families currently in public housing or the housing choice voucher program work toward the goal of homeownership.
EHA opened applications for the program in July 2015 and chose its first six families in January 2016: two each from Rudy Park and Windsor Park, which are two of the three Public Housing Authority-owned properties in town, and two more from the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. As part of the program, participants receive monetary rewards for accomplishing various goals as well as financial assistance to cover costs of different resources or needs related to their pursuit, such as the cost of a credit analyst.
As Bowers, fellow program participants and EHA staff came together to celebrate her accomplishments on Monday night at the Rudy Park Community Center in Elkton, however, officials also announced that the program is struggling for money as previous grants have been used up or are no longer available.
Despite having little funding, EHA Executive Director Cynthia Osborne said the program will continue.
“We’re still anxious and excited to continue working with the rest of our program participants and as long as we’re here and able to do the work that we can do to help you find the right resources, the right partners and the right path to your homeownership, we’re in it,” she said. “We’re going to stick with it.”
‘Something special’ Before Bowers became a firsttime homeowner, she and her twin daughters were part of the Section 8 housing choice voucher program. Before that, they lived in public housing, she said.
Going through the program taught her many things, Bowers said, such as learning to budget more concisely, as well weighing “wants” versus “needs.”
Bowers was also presented with the $450 she accrued while she participated in the program. She and her children also opened up gifts including candles, a clock and etched glass with encouraging words. They also received three Wal-Mart gifts cards, one for each person, and a gift card to Food Lion.
The family officially moved into their home in Buckhill Farms on Nov. 21. The house has three bedrooms and a bathroom, Bowers said.
“We have an unfinished basement,” she said. “My next goal is to have our basement finished, so that’s our next plan. We’re going to work and save to get that basement finished.”
Being able to show her daughters that they can achieve their goals is one of the reasons Bowers applied to the program in the first place.
Bowers said it’s not just about the physical items, such as a house, that she can give to her daughters, but the journey they go through.
“I want them to have experiences,” she said. “I want them to be proud of me, not because of what I bought them, but the things I’ve showed them.”
The twins also said they’ve learned a lot from their mom.
Myra said she learned to never give up and both said they are proud of their mother for achieving the goal she set for herself.
“It’s an exciting moment because we’ve been through a lot over the years and it’s good to see her do something special,” Myra said.
Finding funding But as five other families continue to work toward their own goals of home ownership, the program is struggling to provide enough funding for them.
Osborne, the EHA executive direc- tor, said EHA learned last Friday that it did not receive a $12,000 grant that it applied for due to an overwhelming amount of applicants for the 2016 Maryland Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
The program started out with $75,000 in funding, including $15,000 that EHA donated. The other $60,000 came in the form of a grant the EHA received from the Maryland Affordable Housing Trust Fund in December 2014. EHA thought it would have more than a year to spend the grant money but the state took back the unused money last year after EHA had only spent $16,000.
Osborne said an extension to use the grant money was applied for, but was denied. There is money for an attorney on retainer for when the families find a home, she said.
That loss of funding also meant that the accrual system they devised to encourage participants to finish certain tasks also fell through. They hope to bring it back once a new funding stream is identified.
Looking ahead Despite uncertain funding, Crawford said applications for the second class, which will include another six families, will go out to those in Rudy Park, Windsor Village, the Section 8 house choice voucher program and public senior housing in January.
The only difference is that there is no promise that those in the second class will receive money for participating in the program, Crawford said.
But Crawford also commended Bowers for accomplishing her goal.
“I am very proud of Rita,” Crawford said. “She wanted a house by Christmas, that was her goal ... she was somehow going to figure out how to be in her house by Christmas.”
Fellow members of the program were also are happy for Bowers becoming a first-time homeowner.
“I’m happy because it lets us know that it (the program) works and you get what you put in,” said Natalie May, a participant in the program. “Now that she’s purchased her home, she can give us pointers and advice.”
May said she has a lot of questions about what to expect as a first-time homeowner but that she thinks the program will help her and the other five participants to reach their goal.
“It is a dream and this just helps this dream come sooner,” May said. “And it gives you the help to make buying a home possible.”