We're celebrating another important milestone in the Northwest. In a typical year, some 62,000 income-eligible families in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington receive HUD Housing Choice - or Section 8 - vouchers to help families of limited means keep their rents at no more than 30 percent of their monthly income.

Most use their vouchers on rental housing. Some local housing authorities, however, have exercised the option to allow some number of the vouchers they administer to be used by families to help cover the costs of buying a home.

So, what's to celebrate? Simple. As of July, 2009, 400 Northwest families were utilizing a Housing Choice Voucher to buy a home. More than 80 of these families live and are building their futures in Oregon, including a young woman named Jennifer. She and her daughter Kennedy were looking for a fresh start when they moved to Central Oregon in 2007. They found it in a Family Self Sufficiency Program operated by Housing Works in Bend.

A HUD-funded Family Self Sufficiency program helps families receiving housing assistance both identify and to systematically take the steps necessary to achieve agreed upon goals - completing an education, acquiring the skills to get a better, higher-paying job or, even, buying a home - to, as the name suggests, become self-sufficient.

Jennifer had a very ambitious goal - to own a home in a safe, healthy neighborhood where she could raise her daughter. For years, it had seemed an almost impossible dream. Housing Works' Family Self Sufficiency program helped her realize that, in fact, it was possible.

Working closely with the Family Self Sufficiency Coordinator, Jennifer took a comprehensive look at the resources she had and the resources she needed to develop a step-by-step plan on how to become a homeowner. They quickly began working on raising her credit score, paying off bills, and developing - and sticking to - a spending plan. And, they began to putting money aside in an escrow savings account.

She continued, of course, to work hard at her full-time job, but she also found the time to complete "Financial Fitness" and a "Realizing the American Dream" homeownership classes. When and if opportunity knocked, she clearly was ready, willing and eager to answer its call.

The knock came thanks to Housing Works' HomeQuest Ground Lease Program and the Bend Area Habitat for Humanity. HomeQuest would own title to the parcel, but she'd own the house. She jumped at the opportunity.

Like any Habitat homeowner, of course, Jennifer invested "sweat equity" - and lots of it - in the house. In financing her mortgage through Umpqua Bank, she also brought other equity to the table. Equity like funds from the escrow account she'd started as part of the Family Self Sufficiency program. Even better, the housing authority permitted her to convert her Housing Choice rental voucher into a homeownership voucher which could be used to help her with the costs of buying a home and holding a mortgage.

And now, like 399 other Northwest families who've used homeownership vouchers, her hard work has paid off and her dream has come true. But there's one more dream on her list. Actually, it's her daughters. "First the home, then the dog", she always told Kennedy. At last report, Kennedy is puppy shopping.

Content Archived: August 16, 2011