Leav­ing a legacy

Hous­ing Author­ity pro­gram helps first fam­ily pur­chase home

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By BRI­ANNA SHEA

bshea@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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

ELK­TON

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.”

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