Federal HOME program makes a big difference in Waco. Time to make sure it doesn’t get cut.
By Phil York
Summer is my favorite season and the 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. As a Navy brat, I shared many 4ths with other military families under an illuminated Washington, D.C. night sky; the glow of each explosion brilliantly reflected off of the marble monuments and served as bright dramatic reminders of the sacrifice many service members and their families pay for our freedom.
This past 4th, many of us may have traveled far and near to be with friends and family. We can all agree on one thing: there is nothing like returning home.
As we learned from our previous discussions in our housing blog series, many of our brothers and sisters here in Waco do not have safe, decent and affordable places to call home. Several local nonprofits work diligently alongside the dedicated staff members of the City of Waco and hard-working first time homebuyers to make the American Dream of homeownership a reality.
These efforts depend on HOME funds. Appropriately named, “HOME” is a federal program. Its longer name is “The HOME Investment Partnership Program.” HOME funds are appropriated to local jurisdictions, such as the City of Waco, so that organizations like Waco Habitat for Humanity can build a stronger Waco. These funds can be spent towards new construction, infrastructure improvements and repairs.
Drastic cuts in the HOME program are currently proposed. The latest policy updates from D.C. report that the Senate appropriations proposed to cut the HOME program by 93%. This is a cut from $950 million to $66 million. This will essentially eliminate the HOME program at a time when the need for affordable housing is growing across our nation. The United States Conference of Mayors December 2014 report “shows that 48% of the surveyed cities experienced an increase in homelessness. The report identifies a lack of affordable housing as the leading cause of homelessness among families with children.”
Affordable housing is defined as that which does not require a household to spend more than 30% of gross annual income. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports in 2013 that the fair market rent for a two bedroom apartment in Texas is $847. In order to afford this level of rent without paying 30% of income, a household needs to make $34,671 annually. The median income in the Waco Area is $32,239 compared to the $51,900 state-wide; affordable housing is a need in our community.
Why the Cut?
We understand that our law makers have a duty to balance the budget and to make sure budget funds are spent wisely, and the HOME program has come under some harsh criticism. A 2011 Washington Post investigation launched a probe into the misuse of HOME funds. The article reported startling misuse of HOME funds: “hundreds of millions of dollars squandered on abandoned projects ; 700 projects with $400 million left idle for years; abuse was seen across the nation in communities such as Inglewood, California, Newark New Jersey, and Orange, TX.”
These reports are undoubtedly disturbing, but as with all policy discussions, it is important to have a balanced view on an issue. Misuse of some program funds by some agencies may mean those agencies need to be re-organized, it does not necessarily mean that a whole program needs to be defunded.
HOME funds accomplish exactly what they are meant to accomplish in many communities – for example, Waco!
HOME Here in Waco:
On-time Construction timelines, completed construction production numbers and experienced staff preserve the integrity of the HOME program here locally. Here in Waco organizations that use these funds go through annual on-site audits. They build based on a stringent federal and local building codes. And they partner with applicants that are financially ready for the obligation of a 25-30 year mortgage. Staff members attend continuing education in construction, management and loan origination best practices. Each year, Waco’s organizations have to apply for funding and prove that they are worthy of another year of support based on the previous year’s performance.
The reality of how HOME funds are managed here in Waco is in sharp contrast to the 2011 Washington Post investigation. Here in Waco, precious tax payer funds are managed with the highest due diligence by both CHDOs and City of Waco leadership.
How I was Welcomed HOME
This past week, I was blessed to visit a Habitat homeowner with two members of my board (names have been changed to protect privacy). Sarah greeted us to her home. The purpose of our visit was to share the Star Garden Award; a program our board shares with the best of the best lawns in our Habitat communities.
Sarah greeted us from her driveway with a warm smile and a high-energy wave. Her hospitality beamed nonstop for the next hour. She proudly took us on a tour of her home. Sarah showed us the swing set she installed for her 6 year old daughter, Abigale. Sarah said Abigale can now invite friends over to play. The neighborhood is safe. The home is something her child is proud of. The swing set is lined with beautiful brick pavers she bought from the Habitat ReStore.
Sarah said something that stuck with me. “I literally helped to build this house through my own hands,” she said. “I continue to use those skills not only around the house but also outside with projects like these. I feel an independence that I never felt before in my life…this is our home…a place my Abigale will have long after I am gone.”
Sarah’s home was partially funded with HOME funding. HOME allowed Sarah to realize the independence of the American dream. But Sarah reminded me that her homeownership has a multi-generational impact in our community. Abigale happily swung on the swing set and sang a happy tune while Sarah continued to smile non-stop during her reflection of her home buying process. Sarah and Abigale embody the purpose of the HOME program.
CALL TO ACTION
There are many ways to let your voice be heard so that more homeowners like Sarah may realize the hard-earned status of homeownership.
Next time you are on social media, simply copy and paste the language below into your favorite social media outlet.
Americans are struggling more than ever to afford rising housing costs #UseYourVoice to tell Congress to #SaveHome! http://bit.ly/HFHHOME
Don’t let Congress cut funding for HOME, an efficient and effective program that helps Habitat provide affordable housing for those who need it most. Use your voice today to save HOME: http://bit.ly/HFHHOME
Speak Directly to your Elected Officials
Find your representative with this link. You can type in your zip code and your representatives will appear: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Zip.aspx
Do not hesitate to contact all of the officials that represent you; federal, state and local.
GO here to learn of your City of Waco Council representation:
Use information from this blog post as you speak to your representative. Here are some more talking points:
Production Numbers of the HOME Program (HOME Advocacy Coalition):
- Every $1 million in HOME funds creates or preserves approximately 18 jobs.
- Since 1992, HOME has created more than 1 million affordable homes
- 496,000 homes for new homebuyers
- 232,000 owner-occupied homes repaired
- 298,000 tenants received direct rental assistance
- More than half of HOME Funds have been used to assist “very” and “extremely” low-income families.
These are the websites of nonprofit builders (CHDOs) in Waco that build alongside the City of Waco. Ask to get involved, volunteer or to give to their powerful missions.
- Waco Habitat for Humanity – https://www.wacohabitat.org/
- NeighborWorks Waco – https://www.nw-waco.org/
- Waco Community Development Corporation – http://wacocdc.org/
When the glow of sparklers fade, when the last plume of BBQ smoke disappears with the last of summer’s warm, lazy nights we will all be asked that annual question: “what did you do this summer?”
With these easy action steps, we will be able to say that we helped to preserve HOME not only for our nation, but for our community right here in Waco.
Phil York, Director of Development at Waco Habitat for Humanity, is a self-described “policy nerd;” he is also the Act Locally Waco housing and homelessness policy blogger. You can direct questions to Phil to [email protected]. Would you be interested in blogging for Act Locally Waco? If so please email [email protected].
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.