[Hpn] State brings housing initiative to Bennington; Rutland Herald; 3/23/2008

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@gmail.com
Sun, 23 Mar 2008 04:25:08 -0400


  HousingNow Initiative

  Vermont Agency of Human Services (AHS) Field Services:
  The Field Services Division was created in 2004 as a result of the AHS
  Reorganization to maximize the effectiveness of the human services
  system in each region of the state.  The Division's scope covers the
  entire Agency of Human Services, including services provided by
  private designated and contracted organizations.  An AHS Field
  Director has been established in each of the 12 AHS districts of the
  state to unify human services and to build a system focused on
  excellent customer service, the holistic needs of individuals and
  families, strength-based relationships, and improving results for

  The needs of individuals and families for affordable, temporary and
  emergency housing is significant. In 2006 and 2007, over 50% of Field
  Services direct service dollar allocations went to support the
  immediate housing needs of families to prevent displacement,
  re-incarceration, child custody and a negative impact on the overall
  health and well being of families. Direct service dollars prevented
  many families from becoming homeless and requiring more intense and
  costly intervention from AHS. Additionally, Field Services is
  developing General Assistance (GA) pilot projects to test innovations
  that mitigate poverty and serve applicants more effectively than
  currently served with the same amount of General Assistance funds. In
  2008, AHS introduced the HousingNow Initiative, a project to prevent
  the loss of housing and alleviate homelessness by coordinating
  services and support for tenants and landlords, and by creating
  community teams to address long term housing solutions.

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  Sunday, March 23, 2008
  Rutland Herald
  [Rutland, Vermont]
  Southern Vermont News section
  State brings housing initiative to Bennington

  March 23, 2008

  By PATRICK McARDLE Staff Writer

  BENNINGTON  The state is launching a new initiative to forestall the
  growing problem of homelessness.

  The Agency of Human Services is taking a new tack to alleviate
  homelessness as a recession looms and Vermont's affordable housing
  availability shrinks.

  It is unveiling the "HousingNow Initiative," which is designed to
  bring together housing advocates, housing providers and residents
  through a series of presentations around the state. Meetings have
  already been held in Barre, Rutland, and St. Johnsbury.

  The latest session was held on Friday in Bennington.

  About 50 people, including landlords and representatives of state or
  charitable organizations that work with homeless people or those who
  are at risk of losing their homes, came to the Second Congregational
  Church in Bennington on Friday to discuss the state's efforts to help
  people with housing.

  Vermont Agency of Human Services Deputy Director Patrick Flood said
  the goal of the meeting was the basis of all his agency's efforts.

  "We can't do our work, we can't deliver the services we do if folks
  don't have a place to live. It all starts there," he said.

  In Bennington County, the problem of homelessness is growing.

  Kendy Skidmore, executive director of the Bennington Coalition for the
  Homeless, said that while Bennington County had the third largest
  population of homeless last year, after Chittenden and Rutland
  counties, early reports indicate Bennington may have surpassed

  In 2007, Bennington County had almost 270 homeless. Skidmore said the
  population appears to be about 360 so far this year. Skidmore warned
  that the numbers may be low because some agencies that had reported on
  the homeless population in 2007 were not reporting this year and
  schools that counted homeless students did not include the rest of a
  student's family members in its totals.

  Charles Gingo, field director for the Agency of Human Services in
  Bennington County, said the purpose of Friday's meeting was to look
  for solutions.

  Some local attendees complained about the money spent on temporary
  housing in motels because it's expensive and provides very little
  return on investment. State agencies in Bennington County have spent
  $16,000 since last June on hotels.

  Other counties are stretching their money by finding landlords who
  allow them to guarantee a security deposit or a final month's rental
  payment. It's less expensive than paying for a rental property because
  the money isn't always actually spent, and it's more likely to result
  in a more permanent solution than paying for a room in a motel.

  Other suggestions from Skidmore were appointing one person or an
  office of people in Bennington County to provide a single point of
  contact; providing a security fund that would make landlords more
  comfortable with "risky" tenants; and teaching people how to rent
  successfully in an agency-owned building before putting them in
  private housing.

  Ed Bove, executive director of the Regional Affordable Housing Corp.
  of Bennington County, said he and other landlords would like to see
  training for tenants in order to avoid the legal costs of eviction and
  recovering back rent while paying for a unit that's been trashed.

  "It's almost better to have an empty unit than to rent to risky
  tenants," he said.

  Peter Cross, another local rental property owner, said it was
  difficult to keep rents affordable because of increases in heating
  fuel costs and taxes. Cross also complained that his property
  assessments continued to rise even as he kept rents  and therefore
  the income generated by the property  low.

  Bove and Cross agreed that it would be helpful to have someone who
  could keep them in contact with a tenant when he or she is in
  financial distress. Improved communication can cut down on evictions,
  which many agency employees pointed out, often occur when the problem
  become too difficult to resolve.

  Flood said there may be other tools available soon, including a
  general assistance pilot program that the Legislature had agreed to
  expand to Rutland and Burlington, which he hopes will be made
  available to the whole state.

  Contact Patrick McArdle at patrick.mcardle@rutlandherald.com


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