When residents struggle to find affordable homes or repair unsafe conditions in their homes, one county department makes it their mission to help.
The county’s Housing Services Division helps qualified county residents with very low incomes find affordable housing. This department serves those who qualify by finding safe housing or by rehabbing an existing home.
The Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (AHAC) studies and develops projects along with the county staff and makes recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners.
The Housing Services Division also assists with several nonprofit organizations that are building affordable housing for those who qualify in our county through grant funding and with some who need safe and up to date code renovations.
Both Tammy Harris, housing services director, and Michelle DiRubba-Alford, housing coordinator, work for the county’s Department of Community Services Housing Services Division, and are proud of how the county is helping those who qualify and are in need of safe housing through state and federal grants.
“I’m most inspired about the outstanding teamwork that takes place within our division, we are all mindful stewards of the state and federal funds we receive each year,” Harris said. “Each of us is focused on making the biggest impact to the greatest needs in our county.”
Community Block Grants
One of the grants the department received from 2015-18 is the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which is used to rehab or replace owner-occupied housing rather than let the home cause blight in the community.
They have 11 clients now using the CDBG grant funds.
The $750,000 CDBG grant is for both rehabs and replacement homes.
“We have three replacement and eight home rehabs,” Harris said, adding most will be completed by the end of the year.
“All repairs and replacements are created to current storm codes so people can stay in their homes, stay on the tax rolls,” Harris said.
If replacement is needed, they help them find affordable housing.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, provides payment to energy companies for qualified low income residents so that their heat or air isn’t turned off. The department gets its funding through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
There are two types of assistance with LIHEAP: crisis and regular for those who are income qualified.
For a shut-off mode crisis or a deposit on a rental, a household can receive up to $600 once per year, DiRubba-Alford said, (depending how many live there including children). They may also apply for regular assistance once a year for a current bill, he said.
Citrus County currently holds 178 Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, which is the federal government’s main program for assisting low-income families, the elderly and the disabled to afford decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private market.
Under the program the family who receives a housing voucher has to find suitable housing of their choice, where the owner must lease under the program. The housing voucher family must pay 30 percent to 40 percent of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities.
This program allows very low income families to choose affordable rental housing, rather than be homeless.
Shelter Plus Care
Another grant-funded program offered by the County Housing Services Division is Shelter Plus Care (SPC), which gives rental aid with compassionate services provided by The Centers and others for hard-to-serve homeless people with disabilities, who qualify.
Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing
For homeless veterans, the county’s housing services has Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH), which adds the Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance for homeless veterans, with case management that provides clinical services by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
These services are offered by the VA for participating veterans at VA medical centers and community outreach clinics. Citrus County was able to apply for 10 VASH vouchers, which the County Commissioner approved in 2016.
VASH is the Veterans Assisted Support Housing program, Harris said.
State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program
“The State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program (SHIP) offers an annual allocation given by Florida Housing Finance Corporation to meet the needs of very low, low, and moderate income households to expand and preserve affordable housing and to further the housing element of the local government comprehensive plan specific to affordable housing.”
This program promotes partnerships with builders, developers, government, Realtors, lenders and advocates for low-income persons and various community groups.
“SHIP also partners with nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity and Nature Coast Affordable Housing,” DiRubba-Alford said.
Through $200,000 from SHIP, senior resident housing was completed at Forest Ridge, behind Publix.
“We do site visits and monitor them,” DiRubba-Alford said. “It’s a beautiful place with 192 unit apartments, pool, dog park, etc.”
The Key Training Center’s group homes also receive help through SHIP, such as the new Phil Royal Cottage.
Partnership with Catholic Charities
The newest project is partnering with Catholic Charities that will begin building affordable housing behind Daystar Life Center of Citrus County in September 2018.
“For phase I, we will rehab a home that stands on the Diocese of St. Petersburg’s property,” said Anthony Kopka, executive director of Daystar.
“We will have 10 units available when finished for those with very low income to provide affordable rentals,” he said.
Catholic Charities partnered with the county’s Housing Services to make this possible.
“Of the 10 units including the house, five will be one-bedroom and four will have two bedrooms,” Kopka said.
Both Tammy and Michelle are excited about the new partnership with Catholic Charities.
“It is the best feeling knowing that we’re able to assist our low and very low income residents in giving them a safe, decent and affordable place to live,” DiRubba-Alford said. “At the end of the day, it’s even better to see the smiles on their faces and the happiness and relief that we have provided them.”