Groups aid hous­ing tran­si­tions

Fayet­teville au­thor­ity cre­ates nav­i­ga­tor po­si­tion to help

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - STACY RYBURN

FAYET­TEVILLE — Mak­ing the leap from home­less to housed takes more than putting down a deposit and sign­ing a piece of pa­per.

Tif­fany My­ers knows this. For the past year, she has helped Ron­nie In­mon, a 38-year-old with speech and mental dis­abil­i­ties, go from 20 years of liv­ing in the woods to hav­ing his first apart­ment.

In­mon’s story is in­dica­tive of a larger trend in North­west Arkansas and the na­tion, ac­cord­ing to hous­ing of­fi­cials. Bar­ri­ers as sim­ple as not be­ing able to get an ID can de­rail some­one’s progress.

The Fayet­teville Hous­ing Au­thor­ity has cre­ated a po­si­tion in re­sponse. The hous­ing nav­i­ga­tor will help peo­ple who have a hard time finding a home. Per­haps most im­por­tantly, that per­son will spe­cial­ize in talk­ing to land­lords to get them to ac­cept hous­ing vouch­ers.

In­mon moved into an apart­ment at Hill­crest Tow­ers on Fri­day. The 12-story, 120-unit pub­lic-hous­ing struc­ture down­town was built for older and dis­abled res­i­dents. In­mon found a spot in pub­lic hous­ing, but other lower-in­come or dis­abled res­i­dents seek vouch­ers from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in or­der to live in pri­vately owned dwellings.

His­tor­i­cally known as Sec­tion 8, the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity man­ages about 600 such vouch­ers for peo­ple liv­ing in apart­ments. Res­i­dents liv­ing in the voucher pro­gram pay a por­tion of the rent, usu­ally 30 per­cent of their ad­justed in­come.

At any one time, about 15 to 20 peo­ple with vouch­ers in hand are look­ing for a place. Hold­ing a voucher doesn’t do

any good if a prop­erty owner won’t take it.

That’s why the North­west Arkansas Con­tin­uum of Care, a re­gional coali­tion of agen­cies tar­get­ing home­less­ness, has turned its head to­ward closing the gap, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Steve Burt said. This sum­mer, Fayet­teville First United Pres­by­te­rian Church pro­vided the con­tin­uum a $10,000 grant to es­tab­lish a land­lord in­cen­tive fund.

Ba­si­cally, the fund serves as an at­tempt to al­lay a land­lord’s fears, Burt said. A prop­erty owner could make a claim if a ten­ant dam­ages the prop­erty more than what a deposit would cover.

“We would walk along­side the land­lord and sug­gest that if you have any problems with this per­son, we’ve got your back,” Burt said.

The land­lord would need a point of con­tact, which is where the hous­ing nav­i­ga­tor po­si­tion comes in. So­cial ser­vice case work­ers are over­worked as it is, and the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity’s new po­si­tion will be able to pro­vide spe­cial­ized sup­port by be­ing knowl­edge­able in real es­tate, In­terim Di­rec­tor An­gela Belford said.

“The case man­agers will cer­tainly keep work­ing with their clients,” she said. “But, when they need an ex­tra pair of hands on deck — some­one who will have al­ready es­tab­lished those re­la­tion­ships — I ex­pect this per­son will be very ac­tive with the Con­tin­uum of Care.”

Belford served as board chair­woman of the Con­tin­uum of Care be­fore tak­ing on the role of Hous­ing Au­thor­ity in­terim di­rec­tor in late Oc­to­ber. The idea for a hous­ing nav­i­ga­tor came up dur­ing Belford’s time with the con­tin­uum.

Us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of re­serve and op­er­a­tional revenue, Belford saw the au­thor­ity had the ca­pac­ity to bring the role to fruition. The per­son hired will have the ben­e­fit of work­ing with the au­thor­ity’s voucher pro­gram team, she said.

“In the path of hous­ing, there’s this gi­ant leap from ‘I’ve got­ten a voucher,’ and then there’s a big chasm you have to cross to get to ‘I’ve been housed,’” Belford said.

Hav­ing a hous­ing nav­i­ga­tor work­ing in the city should also pro­vide re­lief to vol­un­teer ad­vo­cates, such as My­ers. In­mon has schizoaf­fec­tive dis­or­der, the symp­toms of which in­clude delu­sions and dif­fi­culty com­mu­ni­cat­ing.

Such a con­di­tion can make ap­ply­ing for dis­abil­ity or hous­ing im­pos­si­ble, My­ers said. While work­ing three jobs her­self, My­ers helped In­mon get a case man­ager from Ozark Guid­ance. Be­cause of that, In­mon was ap­proved for Tier 3 Med­i­caid, and will have a 24-hour care­giver.

“Peo­ple don’t know what a strug­gle it’s been to try to get him help,” My­ers said.

My­ers sat with In­mon at the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity of­fice on Fri­day as he signed stacks of pa­per as­so­ci­ated with mov­ing into his new place.

In­mon lis­tened in­tently as pub­lic-hous­ing spe­cial­ist Cassie Snider read to him the terms of his lease. It was the stan­dard ar­range­ment — when the pest control sprays are, where to take the garbage, the pet pol­icy — but In­mon sat in at­ten­tion. When Snider handed him the keys to his new apart­ment, he was down­right glow­ing.

In­mon said he was look­ing for­ward to get­ting set­tled in.

Coin­ci­den­tally, In­mon’s birth­day is in a few days. Fri­day’s move served as a sort of early gift.

My­ers said she hopes the sto­ries of peo­ple like In­mon will get more at­ten­tion. She posted a GoFundMe and a Craigslist ad seek­ing do­na­tions for In­mon but got no re­sponse.

My­ers said she’s glad to see or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity and Con­tin­uum of Care tak­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach. The au­thor­ity hopes to hire some­one for the nav­i­ga­tor po­si­tion by the end of the year.

“I’m so su­per ex­cited that this is com­ing full cir­cle,” My­ers said. “There’s some sort of hope for peo­ple who are home­less.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

Ron­nie In­mon (left) shows off the keys to his new apart­ment Fri­day along­side his ad­vo­cate, Tif­fany My­ers, af­ter sign­ing a lease for an apart­ment at Hill­crest Tow­ers in Fayet­teville. In­mon was home­less for al­most 20 years be­fore se­cur­ing hous­ing with My­ers’ help.

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