Feds may implement time limits for public housing residents
High Point native Tiffaney Jackson has seen her share of struggles.
The Sunrise Towers resident lost her mother and her fiancé in the span of a month, and in 2009, she was diagnosed with a rare blood condition that kept her hospitalized for the better part of a year, forcing her to give up her job as an assistant teacher in a nearby daycare. But things are looking up, Jackson said. She’s back in school, completing the requirements to obtain her GED, and plans to follow it up by getting re-certified as a daycare teacher so she can get back to doing what she loves: working with children.
“Basically, I’m just trying to keep hope and try to get back stable. I’m trying to graduate – I’m trying to get back where I used to be, and maybe a little bit more,” said the mother of one. “…I didn’t know I was going to fall sick in 2009. That put a big delay in there, but I didn’t give up. Now, I’m almost there.”
Jackson has other plans, too. She wants to become a homeowner.
“To me, this is a stepping stone – Sunrise,” she said. “It’s really a stepping stone to get you on your feet. I’ve got it on my mind that this is not where I want to be. I want to own my own house. I don’t want to live in no more public housing. That has always been my dream and my goal – I want to own my own house.”
Jackson, 40, says achieving her dreams is more attainable than ever, thanks to PATH (People Achieving Their Highest), a new program the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem (HAWS) is in the process of rolling out. Jackson plans to enroll in the program after she completes her GED later this month.
“When they first came and talked about it, I praised God because a lot of people don’t care, they don’t do stuff like that,” she said of the program. “The name fits, too – PATH – especially when you’re trying to walk the right path.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Congressional leaders are pushing to limit the amount of time residents can stay in public housing and place stipulations on residency, such as requiring residents to pursue job training or education. In preparation for what many deem is an eventuality, HAWS started the PATH program. As it awaits the federal government’s approval of its request for greater flexibility with funding, HAWS has begun a slow rollout of the program, which seeks to remove barriers that have historically prevented residents from moving “up and out” of public housing. Money is available through PATH for everything from childcare and substance abuse counseling to equipment, book fees and legal services, according to HAWS CEO Larry Woods.
“It is designed to help residents become more self sufficient,” Woods said of PATH. “As residents become more self sufficient, it’ll allow us to serve more residents of our community.”
Woods says HAWS will enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Workforce Development to offer the program to its residents at no additional cost to residents or the Housing Authority. He sees it as a preemptive action that will help soften the blow of ever-increasing budget cuts.
“We knew that eventually, this budget crisis was going to hit, so we were looking ahead,” he stated. “Now, we’re well prepared to help our residents weather the storm.”
Woods traveled to Washington, DC earlier this month to present HAWS’ ideas for the program to Congressional representatives, and says they were well received. The program has already been piloted in a handful of communities, with encouraging results, Woods said. He believes PATH could be revolutionary for Housing Authority residents.
“With the PATH program, it will allow their children to go to college or trade school at no additional cost to the residents,” he said. “We think that this program, with all the partners involved, is going to make a tremendous difference for our residents and for others who need public housing… It will give them a better quality of life in the long run.”
Sunrise Towers Manager Beverly Carter-Leavy says more than a dozen Sunrise tenants have already signed up to participate in the program. Carter-Leavy, who lived in the Rolling Hills community during the time when it was part of HAWS, believes PATH could be a recipe for success for the residents.
“Any barriers that you have, the PATH program works with you to eliminate,” she said. “I was in Rolling Hills for five years. If they had a program like this down there (then), it would’ve helped me tremendously.”
Piedmont Park resident Jahid Ross exemplifies what HAWS authorities hope the PATH program will mean for residents. Ross, 26, made the strategic move into public housing three years ago, as a means of balancing his expenses as he prepares for the future. The West Orange, NJ native is currently enrolled in LEAD (Learn Educate Advance Degree), a program that helps residents overcome financial barriers to furthering their education, which will be rolled into PATH once it is fully vested.
“Trying to work full time and then going to school full time, it was complicated. I constantly had the debate of whether I was going to go to school or whether I was going to work,” he said. “…I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for the housing program, I would probably not be able to go to school.”
For Ross, living in public housing has been a key component in solidifying what he hopes will be a sound financial future going forward. He believes that many others in his community will embrace PATH and the opportunities it presents as awareness about the program grows.
Piedmont Park Residents Council President Hazeline Neely believes PATH is a win-win for everyone concerned.
“Sometimes, we all need just that little boost and that’s like a boost for them (residents) to know that there is an opportunity for them to step up,” she remarked. “…This program is the best that I’ve heard of yet for people who are living on low income, and I would advise anyone who’s still able to take advantage of it, because after all, the future is in their hands.”
HAWS Compliance Manager Candace Edwards believes the PATH program and residency restrictions, if implemented, could inspire residents to reach beyond their comfort zones and rise to a level of potential they may not even know they possess.
“I think once the policies are in place, you tell people what’s expected of them and they will rise to the occasion,” Edwards said. “HUD has introduced this in pilots all over the country; people have risen to the occasion, and they’re doing well. I think that once you expect more of people, they perform better.”
PATH is open to Housing Authority residents only. For more information, contact HAWS at 336-727-8500.