Here at HomeAgain, our main objective is to ensure clients return to a permanent home, again. The Housing First approach has shown evidence of client’s improved lifestyle and self-worth, by providing them with a home and surrounding them with the necessary resources to sustain it. For someone living in the street, however, finding a home may not come as a priority. Surviving the day-to-day, while struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse, a long-term disability or simply with finding something to eat is a challenge. Our programs across de Greater Richmond Continuum of Care provide support services for families, single men and women, and veterans who are facing homelessness in the city. Certainly providing these can lift some of their weight and encourage them towards achieving their housing and life goals.
Very often I get asked whether or not homelessness can be prevented. While sure I believe is important to advocate for prevention, the approach cannot be a “one-size fits all.” Let us take away the underlying problems that encompass homelessness, like violence and substance abuse, and let us focus on housing alone for a moment. How easy it is to find a home?
I recently had to go through the process of finding a new place, myself. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, we rely on a very modest living allowance to do our work and pay our bills. It comes as no surprise that I needed to find some roommates to share my rent burden. Obviously, my case is not to be compared with someone’s who is literally homeless, but we all know that renting a home – even more so buying one- can be quite the ordeal. If a person is not facing eviction yet and is actively search for a home, the rule is for the rent to be no more than two-thirds of the person’s gross income. This can limit their options in regards to nearby schools (if the person has any children), access to public transportation (if the person cannot afford a car) and services – like grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals nearby, etc. Considering that the median nonfamily household income is roughly about $32,937 a year (many are earning less than that), I can understand how challenging finding a home can be.
Aside from income alone, some can find a guarantor or someone who can help share the rent/mortgage load. I found roommates and relied heavily on family support, though in other circumstances I may not have been able to do so. A family of five cannot afford to live with roommates, and some of our clients may also struggle with a criminal history and an unfavorable credit report. For someone who needs to work daily, 40 hours a week or more to support their family, may not have transportation and need to take care of other important issues, finding housing is the least of their priorities.
First, we need to search the listings, the prices that best suit us, contact the landlord, and attend a tour. And if all goes well, then we need to submit an application, which can total $150 in application fees. Some landlords or companies will require a security deposit payment, equal to one month’s rent with the application, so we are seeing already about $600- 1200 to apply for a place. It may cause a strain in someone’s financials until finally, they find a good place to call home. It took about 10 apartment visits to me. And mortgages can be as difficult (is not more) as renting a home. It requires at least an average credit score or a co-signer, plus a stable work history. Criminal history or not enough time in a job can hurt the process of finding housing. The good news is that, as a community, we understand these shortcomings and work with the clients to overcome those barriers. There are services and opportunities for those who qualify for affordable housing, which means there is a way to find a home without breaking the piggy bank.
HomeAgain and its partners have joined efforts into finding affordable housing for their clients and those in the community suffering from a housing crisis. If you think affordable housing programs are a right fit for you, or someone you know, dial 2-1-1 or go online to www.betterhousingcolaition.org. Other resources are www.publichousing.com/state/virginia and www.dhcd.virginia.gov/index.php/housing-programs-and-assistance.html .