The Foundation for Rural Housing Inc. (Rural Housing) is a statewide, special purpose agency working closely with Wisconsin’s Community Action Agencies (CAAs). As might be suspected, our services have a bias in favor of housing. In these hard economic times, many agencies focus on jobs. However, it is hard to hold a job if there is a constant worry about where you or your family will be sleeping tonight or a week from now.
For many years, the number of homeless individuals and families in Wisconsin has been far too great. Rural Housing seeks to prevent or mitigate homelessness. This goal is helped by Critical Assistance funds from the State of Wisconsin Division of Housing which provide the ability to help pay security deposits or rent. This assistance helps families move into an affordable place or stay in their current home. As a statewide agency, we coordinate closely with local CAAs and other agencies to fill the gaps when they are out of funds.
Homeowners on low- or fixed-income are facing many of the same problems as homeless individuals and families. While the number of lenders foreclosing on properties has slowed in the last year or so, many counties are taking more assertive action related to delinquent property taxes. Many senior citizens no longer have a mortgage; property taxes have become their largest expense. This is especially true when their Social Security check is less than $900 a month. Rural Housing works with homeowners and the county treasurers to negotiate monthly payments that can be made to get these households back on track. With our help, along with homestead tax credit and critical assistance funds, these citizens can stay in their home. This is where they generally want to be and it is definitely more cost-effective for the State.
We take a similar approach in cases related to delinquent mortgage payments. In these cases, we work closely with the lender to help create a situation the homeowner can sustain.
Rural Housing recently performed a housing needs assessment via participants at food pantries across the state. Current responses show that preventing homelessness is the No. 1 priority of these individuals; 50 percent indicated a risk (from ‘low’ to ‘high’) of becoming homeless.
Repairs in owner occupied homes was the No. 2 priority; the four types of repairs most commonly identified were painting, roof work, the installation of insulation and windows. We are working with a group of agencies to develop more ways in which clients, especially seniors, can afford to do necessary repairs and modifications so they can age in place. In the past, we developed a successful volunteer-based repair program in 42 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Although funding for this initiative ended some time ago, several of the counties involved continue to maintain programs that were initiated by the earlier Rural Housing effort. It may not be as glamorous as new construction, but something as simple as the installation of a grab bar may prevent a life-threatening fall.
It will take cooperation among numerous agencies to support the daily lives of Wisconsin’s growing aging population. According to the 2010 Census, approximately 23 percent of Wisconsin’s population is now over age 65. Most live on fixed-incomes and many are below the poverty line. If we as WISCAP member CAAs and special purpose agencies can facilitate programs to make homes safe and energy efficient, then, perhaps our elderly fellow citizens can live comfortably and continue to contribute to their communities.
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Foundation for Rural Housing, Inc.