Vouchers available for housing

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In a community in need of more low-income housing options, Geraldine Collins is a success story.

The single mother of three young children is one of two Craig residents buying a home with some financial assistance from the government.

"Especially with kids you got to have a good foundation," Collins said from her quaint, three-bedroom home near downtown Craig. "I never thought in a million years I'd have a home, but now I do."

Collins is one of 83 Craig residents receiving government-issued Section 8 housing vouchers. The vouchers allow low-income residents to rent apartments or other housing units at subsidized rates.

According to federal guidelines, residents may be available for housing assistance if rental costs are more than 30 percent of a family's total income.

After a year of paying subsidized rent on a mobile home in Craig, Collins cashed in on her good standing. She took advantage of a program through the U.S. Department or Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and worked with Craig's Independent Life Center on a program that allows low-income residents to buy a home after a year of renting under the voucher system.

Collins fronted a $1,000 down payment and voucher costs go toward her 38-year mortgage. After settling on a home in her price range the stay-at-home mom and her family moved in on Oct. 3.

"I was always told I'd have the white picket fence and now I do," Collins said. "This is the best thing that could have happened to a person with low self-esteem like me."

Evelyn Tileston, founder of Craig's Independent Center, is proud to report happy endings like Collins'. Helping the young family into a home was a first-time experience for the Independent Life Center which teaches residents' skills for living successfully.

"The program is open to anyone who qualifies," Tileston said. "I think it's what most people want to do -- to own their own home."

Yet aside from the home-buying program, the community needs more options for Craig's low-income renters, she said.

The Center recently had to close down a waiting list more than 40 names long for potential renters at Ridgeview Apartments, a former low-income housing unit.

Harry Peroulis purchased the 48-unit complex from HUD at an October auction. All of the residents were issued vouchers to continue living at the site for the reduced rent rates if they choose to. Five families used the vouchers to move into other apartments around town, Tileston said.

Craig's low-income market consists of 120 units at Columbine Apartments and 88 units at Sunset Meadows, subsidized housing for senior citizens.

Rather than another low-income housing complex, Tileston sees a need in Craig for more vouchers.

Vouchers have been available to Craig residents for the last three years, she said.

"What we need is not another building set aside as low-income, we need people to live where they want to," she said. "There's a certain dignity not to feel that you have to live in one place."

According to a representative from the Colorado Office of Public Housing, it's unlikely that local communities will see any new money for vouchers in the next year.

"There are huge waiting lists (for vouchers) everywhere," said Linda Camblin director of the office's Rocky Mountain region. "There are some small areas without lists, but that's unusual."

In 2005, $17 billion in federal money is proposed for both vouchers and existing low-income housing developments, Camblin said.

That's up about a billion dollars from last year, but the subsidies aren't necessarily helping more people. In the sluggish economy, families are earning less money, while rental rates are increasing. It means families already getting assistance are getting more money to bridge increasing costs, but families seeking out assistance for the first time are having a harder time getting it.

Mel Day, property manager of the Columbine Apartments, said he fields between four and 10 applications a week for subsidized housing at the facility.

Day currently has one vacant unit Columbine. He has 12 people on a waiting list for a total of 24 one-bedroom units.

"We have a lot of single parents," Day said. "I think there's more of a need for the voucher system. That would serve the community better than providing more subsidized housing."

Day estimated a 100-percent occupancy rate by March.

But other Craig apartment complexes don't have the high occupancy rates Columbine is experiencing, said John Barr, president of the Yampa Valley Landlord Association.

"We don't need any more apartments in town," he said. "We're sitting with empty apartments."

Barr is the site manager of the Golden Arms Apartments which has 72 units. Thirteen are currently unoccupied.

"I haven't had this many empty apartments in 6 years," he said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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