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Transcript of JoCo on the Go podcast 1/20/2020

Theresa Freed: [00:00] On this week's episode, hear from Johnson County housing experts who will share details about how to access programs and services to find a place called home in Johnson County.

Announcer: [00:10] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed: [00:23] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. In Johnson County, we're fortunate to have some wonderful neighborhoods and housing options, but as many people know, the cost of living here may be out of reach for some. Fortunately, Johnson County has great support services to help ease the burden for our low income families and other adults. We want to share a little bit about our housing services available through our human services department to help with this conversation. I'm joined by David Ward and Jesse Mofle, both from Human Services. Thanks for joining us.

David Ward: [00:56] Glad to be here. Thank you. Great to be here.

Theresa Freed: [00:59] All right. Well just start off with, can you just tell us a little bit about your roles with the County?

David Ward: [01:03] I'm David Ward. I am director of Johnson County housing services and the Johnson County housing authority.

Jesse Mofle: [01:07] Deputy director of the same organizations.

Theresa Freed: [01:10] Okay, and why do you enjoy doing this work?

David Ward: [01:14] There is not a single day that I go home at night without wondering if I've made a difference. I know that I have, it's very fulfilling, very rewarding and we're fortunate to be given the opportunity to serve.

Jesse Mofle: [01:25] I agree with everything David said. We get the ability to meet people in all different stages of their lives, help them with difficult situations they may be going through related to housing and home maintenance.

Theresa Freed: [01:37] Okay. And housing is absolutely one of those necessities in life and I know many people probably take it for granted, so it's great to know that we do have these services available when we're going to talk a little bit more about that. And I think, you know, people don't always realize that poverty is a real issue here in Johnson County. And just putting a roof over your head without stable employment or with a lower wage job can be really hard. So how does Human Services help? But, and I know you have a few programs if you want to talk about that.

David Ward: [02:05] We administer three major programs through housing services, the Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance program, formerly known as Section 8, the Home Investment Partnership, which provides major home renovation services and the Minor Home Rehabilitation Program which provides as the name says minor home rehabilitation assistance. One thing to note, these programs are primarily federally funded with the exception of the Minor Home Rehabilitation Program, which receives city funding and some limited private funds as well. We are able to, through the Housing Choice Voucher Program meet only about 10% of the need in the County with the vouchers that the housing and urban development department provides us. We've had 1,447 vouchers and that number has been stagnant for about eight years. We aren't looking to have an increase in that number, unfortunately.

Theresa Freed: [02:55] Okay. So there are some needs that are, are not necessarily being met through that program, but we do have other support services, is that right?

David Ward: [03:02] Exactly, exactly.

Theresa Freed: [03:03] Okay. And qualifying for the programs I know is closely tied to income. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Jesse Mofle: [03:11] Yes, all of our clients are at 80% or less of area median income. For a family of one in Johnson County, that limit is $46,350. For each additional household member, that amount goes up all the way to a family of eight that can earn $87,350.

David Ward: [03:33] With the construction programs, that Jesse's mentioning the limit is 80% of area median income that is defined annually by HUD. For the Housing Choice Voucher Program, we are limited to 50% of area median income. There's another stipulation beyond that though from HUD that requires that 75% of our vouchers be awarded to folks earning 30% of area median income. So while 50% is the limit for the program, 30% is where the majority of my vouchers need to be applied.

Jesse Mofle: [04:05] And the income level for a Johnson County resident at 30% of AMI is $17,400.

Theresa Freed: [04:13] That's an important requirement. I know there is pretty strict requirements when you, when you have government funding obviously. Can you talk a little bit about what kind of income we're talking about? Is that strictly wages or does it include other things?

David Ward: [04:26] It would vary. I'd say we have people who defined as the working poor people that have just lower wage positions and not necessarily full time hours. We have people that receive Social Security benefits, pension benefits disability payments as well.

Theresa Freed: [04:42] Okay. And I know sometimes with benefits for low income individuals, there are assets that that may or may not be counted as well. Is that something that's taken into consideration?

David Ward: [04:53] HUD does take that into consideration? And they will evaluate the income that those assets produce. And that's what's considered in the equation.

Theresa Freed: [05:01] Okay. And I'm sure you guys are happy to help walk people through the process of determining that stuff. Okay. That sounds great. So what's the ultimate goal of, of these assistance programs? How are you able to help residents achieve self-sufficiency?

Jesse Mofle: [05:15] The goal of the HCV program is not necessarily to gain self-sufficiency. It's to assist people in gaining safe, sanitary and decent housing. With our construction programs, we aim to keep people living with independence and dignity in their own homes.

David Ward: [05:35] I think it's important for people to recognize that homeowners may be in a situation where the housing affordability becomes an issue. Just because they've lived in their home for a long time and it may be paid for, doesn't mean that somebody is able to keep up with the maintenance requirements and keep it in satisfactory and habitable condition.

Theresa Freed: [05:54] Okay. And that's often a situation for older adults who may want to stay in their home, but they may not have the means to do that upkeep. And so you have programs available for them.

David Ward: [06:05] Exactly. And we see people making difficult decisions. Do I maintain my home or do I buy my medication? Do I buy groceries? And they're just terrible situations that people find themselves in. I'm glad we have programs to help.

Theresa Freed: [06:18] Okay. And you do have a family self-sufficiency program, but it has a limited number of participants or very limited. Right. Can you talk a little bit about what that program is?

Jesse Mofle: [06:28] The family self-sufficiency program is a, an annual renewable grant through HUD that the Johnson County Housing Authority is awarded. We have capacity for 35 participants and the goal of that is to enter into a five year contract with the participant that allows them to determine their future and what self-sufficiency may look like for them. For some people it could be getting livable, wage employment getting a college degree it's really up to the participant to determine that end goal.

David Ward: [07:03] Graduates of that program now hold positions as accountants, as school teachers, school counselors, nurses, all living wages, jobs with benefits.

Theresa Freed: [07:14] So Johnson County has made some improvements over the last, I think year in just in this area. So obviously we have limited budgets, we have limited resources in order to help people with housing. But we do have a new staff member and known as the Landlord Recruiter who is helping connect people to the resources that are available. Can you talk a little bit more, a little bit more about that?

David Ward: [07:37] Absolutely. The Landlord Recruiter position was, was established within the County to identify, I guess to locate and identify affordable housing options that may not already participate in our housing programs. We're trying to get individual landlords to participate as well as larger complexes in the program that may not be in the program already. Just to increase the choices people have as, as we look for affordable housing options within our county.

Theresa Freed: [08:09] Okay. So is this the County buying up properties or just having a relationship with landlords and establishing standards?

David Ward: [08:15] It would be establishing the relationships with the landlords. As a landlord. There are two basic risks that you face. You're not going to get paid and somebody's going to cause damage to the unit. Participating in the Housing Choice Voucher Program virtually eliminates the first risk. And it minimizes the second risk. Our payments leave the office through direct deposit at the beginning of each month and our checks clear. For the voucher holders, they are motivated to keep that voucher so they are less likely to do damage we've found than maybe an unassisted tenant would be.

Theresa Freed: [08:49] Okay. So there's that income requirement component, but then there's also some expectations on the part of the participant. Is that right?

David Ward: [08:57] Absolutely. There are obligations that the participants must honor to maintain their, their future assistance.

Theresa Freed: [09:02] Okay. And can you talk a little bit about what some of those expectations are?

Jesse Mofle: [09:06] Families are required to annually recertify their income. That's the way we determine what portion of the rent a family will pay on their behalf. In addition to the recertification families also must have an inspection on their unit annually that ensures that the unit's being maintained properly by the participant and also the landlord ensuring that that housing remains affordable, safe, and sanitary.

Theresa Freed: [09:32] Okay. And can you talk a little bit about, where are we seeing the, the need for housing? Where are people not getting their needs met? Maybe we're close to where they're working or or whatnot. In Johnson County,

David Ward: [09:45] The issue is pervasive throughout the County. I can't say that there's one specific demographic that has more difficulty than another. Or maybe one specific region within the County. There's so many people that are what we call cost burdened with housing. The kind of national standard for that factor is 30% of your income goes toward housing. If it's more than that, you're considered house burdened. Renters are as a proportion of the population subject to a higher cost burden than maybe homeowners are. But again, home ownership. The second highest cost burden group would be homeowners without mortgages, which is surprising to people that you're trying to keep up with your property taxes, your insurance, your home maintenance, your utilities, things like that. And if you look at the income that's coming in, if you're on a fixed income, oftentimes it just isn't adequate. That's why. I'm thankful we have the repair and rehabilitation programs that we can offer.

Theresa Freed: [10:41] All right. And can we talk a little bit about what those programs do to, to help residents?

Jesse Mofle: [10:46] Our Minor Home Rehabilitation Program is a smaller scale rehab project that can deal with maybe one trade, a an HVAC replacement for someone that doesn't have heat, a plumbing repair, sewer line replacement or electrical system upgrades. These programs still require that the homeowner qualify as that 80% of AMI or below. And also there's some restrictions that HUD imposes on us to ensure that the house value is less than 202,000 for this year that is updated annually by HUD also, this grant is a grant program and there's no repayment requirement. Currently we're accepting applications for this program that can be gained from our office or our Johnson County government website.

Theresa Freed: [11:34] Okay. And just to kind of talk through what a typical scenario might be. Say that I'm a resident here and I'm on a fixed income. I've got a major repair that needs to be made in my house or I'm potentially considering selling and moving to a rental property and I walk into your office and what do you do?

David Ward: [11:54] It doesn't necessarily even require a visit to the office. You can call and we can coordinate the application process for you. We're more than happy to assist in that regard. Basically the application is a simple form we're going to need just some identification information, the household composition, who lives there. We're going to need to know the sources of income for all people there and the amounts of that income. We talked earlier about the assets that we need to consider as well, so we'd identify those at that time. We will take that application, we'll verify the information that is provided, that'll qualify the homeowner for assistance. The property next needs to be qualified for assistance. So we have some HUD imposed environmental factors that need to be met and as Jess mentioned, we have some value limits that need to be considered as well. We'll take a look at what the property situation is so when we have the homeowner approved and the property approved, then we can send an inspector out and look to see what needs to be done. The inspector will work with the homeowner to decide what the scope of the project is going to be. As we said on the Minor Home Rehabilitation Program, it's typically one trade. It may be a furnace, it may be a hot water heater, something simple like that. For the Home Investment Partnership, which is the larger scale, the homeowner will allow us, or we will actually place a lien on the property for a 10-year period. Zero interest, zero payment. It's forgiven proportionately over that 10 years. But for the major renovation program, then the goal of that is to bring the house as close to current building code as possible. I stress as close as possible because I can't rebuild staircases. I can't widen doorways and openings and things like that necessarily in every case. So we bring it as close as possible to the current codes.

Theresa Freed: [13:34] Are there some situations where somebody has just an overwhelming amount of repair that needs to be made and, and you advise them to take another route?

David Ward: [13:44] That's a difficult decision. And we, we, we do encounter that. The last thing we want to do is have to, to walk away from a project. We see the need firsthand. We know what's going on there. I have specific limits that the County allows us to spend on each project. We will try everything we can before we walk away. We will try to partner with maybe social service agencies that could do something. There's Rebuilding Together for example or Hope Builders have worked with us in the past to maybe stage a house where it is in a condition that we can meet the requirements of the homeowner and stay within our project limits. So we go to great lengths. We're not always successful, but we sure try hard.

Theresa Freed: [14:30] Okay. And I recently attended the JoCo Academy where you guys showing some great before and after pictures, some really impressive renovations of homes that made them livable and even pleasant to look at. So can you talk a little bit about sort of the response you get from, from the people who receive this?

Jesse Mofle: [14:52] Some of the projects I take the most pride in are when we're able to replace a bathtub or shower with a walk or zero clearance enclosure with some very good looking onyx-style, but non-luxury, items and allows the homeowner to maybe continue to live in their home when that's the only obstacle they're having is being able to bathe and things like that.

David Ward: [15:15] Accessibility modifications is absolutely one of the most rewarding aspects of, of what we do because again, we're enabling someone to live independently and with dignity in the home that they've lived in for years. Another advantage of the rehabilitation programs is it's not just a homeowner who receives the benefit. Surrounding property owners receive the benefit as well. And as you mentioned, the before and after pictures. We're pretty proud of those. We put a lot of effort into making those houses look the way they do in the after shot. And the neighbors benefit from that as well. It can make a difference on the block. It can make a difference in the neighborhood. And if we do enough of those projects, it can make a difference in the community. Preserves housing stock, preserves housing values. So it's a win win for a lot of people.

Theresa Freed: [15:58] All right, great programs there. And this is kind of closely related, not housing directly, but utility assistance is, is something that human services also helps residents with. So can you talk a little bit about if somebody is struggling to stay in their home because they can't keep it warm what kind of services are available for that sort of thing?

David Ward: [16:18] The Human Services Utility Assistance Program is actually through the outreach program. The multi-service centers have staff there that can meet with, with people having that particular need. 913-715-6653 is the number to call for an appointment.

Theresa Freed: [16:35] Okay. And we'll have that number on our show notes if anybody is needing that. Any other advice for residents who find themselves in a difficult situation with, with their housing? Maybe they have a, you know, a large family in inadequate space and they don't have the income. You know what, where do they start

David Ward: [16:53] Call. Ask. Our goal is to find a way to yes, it's real easy. We can find any number of reasons to say no. We try real hard to get to a yes. If you meet the income qualifications and your property meets those qualifications, we do our absolute best to serve you to the maximum benefit to which you're entitled.

Theresa Freed: [17:15] Okay. Anything else you'd like to share with our listeners

David Ward: [17:18] As we wrap up here? I would like to point out just a couple of things about these programs that I'd like the community to know. First of all, the the rental assistance through the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Those program funds are paid to private for-profit landlords in our community. We have over 200 landlord partners that we work with all but one are for-profit. So those monies are returned to the private sector. The one that not for profit is Friends of Johnson County Developmental Supports and we're very happy to work with them. In the construction programs. We hire private contractors, so those funds are also returned to private sector for-profit contractors in our community. We don't do any of the work ourselves. It goes back into the private sector.

Theresa Freed: [18:09] Well, thank you both for joining us today and we'll of course have all of that information about the website and phone numbers that you can reach out to on our show notes.

Announcer: [18:19] You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.