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Home of Our Own

League of Minnesota Cities - 2010 - City of Excellence Awards (20,000+)

Summary

During the redevelopment of Colfax Avenue, the main city street in Aurora, Colorado in the mid-1990s, there were many homeless families living in motels on this street. The city decided to provide help to these citizens through the Home of Our Own program. The program provides one-time grant assistance to eligible families so they can move into permanent rental housing. The program also assists homeless families participating in the Aurora Housing Corporation’s Families in Transition Program, a two-year transitional housing program; families who have a current Section 8 voucher or certificate; and families living in Aurora’s two homeless shelters.

Description

At one time, East Colfax Avenue in Aurora, Colorado, was a vital economic corridor, but businesses began to decline when new highways gradually drew tourist traffic away, and by the late 1960s, tourist development had effectively ended along the avenue. Over the next two decades, retail trends shifted from pedestrian-oriented “main street” outlets to indoor shopping malls, and the decommissioning of Lowry Air Force Base and the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in the 1990s stripped the area of two major employment centers and thousands of workers, residents, visitors, and consumers.

Saddled with high vacancy rates as a result of aging properties that no longer attracted middle-income families and growing businesses, many property owners sought out low-rent tenants and businesses that catered to the poor and the fringe economy. Slowly, the area deteriorated: signs of blight appeared, commercial and residential property values declined, and crime increased, all signaling poor prospects for future investment.

When the redevelopment of both military properties and the former Stapleton Airport revitalized the area in the mid- to late 1990s, Aurora implemented a series of capital improvement programs to bring back Colfax Avenue; these included the renovation of commercial façades and the rehabilitation of single-family homes. However, the most vulnerable population of Aurora—the homeless families with children living in motels along Colfax Avenue—desperately needed help.

That help is provided through Home of Our Own, a rental assistance program established in 1998. The program provides one-time grant assistance to eligible families so they can move into permanent rental housing. To be eligible, clients must have resided in motels for at least 15 days and have an income at or below 80 percent of the area medium income. They must also attend a “tenant education class,” which provides information on landlord/tenant issues and financial literacy. Other program parameters include weekly case reviews, an absence of drug use and criminal behavior, and housing quality inspections. The grant covers the cost of a security deposit, a utility deposit, and 75 percent of the first month’s rent.

The program also assists homeless families participating in the Aurora Housing Corporation’s Families in Transition Program, a two-year transitional housing program; families who have a current Section 8 voucher or certificate; and families living in Aurora’s two homeless shelters. By helping clients find housing and assisting with initial housing costs, Home of Our Own makes it easier for lowincome families to afford customary living expenses and the cost of home furnishings so they can put their energy into getting the financial, educational, and strategic guidance they need to get back on their feet.

The program stands out from other tenant-based rental assistance programs in several ways. First, because it provides rental assistance one time only, the program does not maintain the long-term residency of its clients. Second, it provides a dedicated housing specialist/caseworker, who not only administers the program but also provides clients with additional financial assistance for other expenses, such as furnishings, clothing, utilities, and food on an as needed, case-by-case basis. Third, the program addressed homelessness by strategically selecting housing near places of employment, social and recreational services, and commerce. And fourth, it makes housing selections throughout the city in order to avoid concentrations of poverty and to better assimilate homeless families into a standard living environment.

To successfully implement Home of Our Own, Aurora partners with local social service providers, apartment managers, local businesses, and grant-funding organizations to provide housing, counseling, and household items. The program is coordinated by the city’s community development division, in cooperation with the Aurora Mental Health Center’s Aurora Family Preservation and Family Support Initiative; the cooperation of both agencies, which pay the salary of the housing specialist/ caseworker, ensures high-quality service delivery and redundancy during staffing shortages.

Since 1998, approximately $250,000 of direct rental assistance has been provided to 192 families at an average cost of $1,294. Funding comes primarily from Community Development Block Grants and HOME Investment Partnerships grants, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides to the city annually, and from Arapahoe County’s Aurora Preservation Family Grant. And each year, despite decreases in the city’s federal grant entitlements and Aurora’s lack of general fund revenues, Home of Our Own manages to secure more funding to assist more families.

Staff attribute the program’s continual ability to obtain funding to its ever-increasing popularity, coupled with its 95 percent success rate and low administrative cost. Other external factors, such as Aurora’s surplus rental housing market, high foreclosure rate, and desirable climate, have also established the program as a high priority. But perhaps the greatest mark of accomplishment has been the program’s impact on children: no longer exposed to crime- and drug-infested motel environments, child participants now enjoy a stable environment within the same home, the same school, and the same community.

By creatively addressing some of Aurora’s homeless transitional housing needs in a low-cost way that other communities could easily replicate, Home of Our Own has dramatically improved the lives of its clients and proven itself to be a win-win program for Aurora and its residents.

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Tags: Access to Services and Social Justice, Civic/Public Participation, Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Economic and Community Development, Education and Training, Finance, Health and Social Services, Youth Services





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