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Proof of zero income now needed to get housing aid in Longview

By Jimmy Isaac
Feb. 14, 2017 at 11:55 p.m.

Longview-area families with no income now must prove it monthly if they want to keep receiving rent assistance.

City of Longview Housing Authority will require people who get rental help but claim zero household income to complete a monthly worksheet called the Zero-Income Checklist. The worksheet asks rental aid recipients with no reported income to verify how they meet food, utility, transportation and clothing needs — as well as communications, medical, pet, smoking and other expenses.

The agency already required clients to prove household income, but the worksheet is much more detailed and provides a month-by-month update.

Housing Manager Cheteva Marshall said she hopes the checklist — and mandatory monthly one-hour meetings — not only help set families on a path toward self-sufficiency, but also help Longview Housing assist more families in the five communities it serves.

"It's not a gotcha or anything like that," Marshall said Tuesday at a municipal housing advisory committee meeting. "We're just going to have to start being more thorough with it.

"Say if Grandma is giving you $25, but your utility bill is $325, where is the other $300 coming from?" Marshall said. "So, it's just going to cause us to be more thorough, and (U.S. Housing and Urban Development) says, 'Well, if that money is coming into the household, that's income, and we have to use that.'"

Marshall's agency serves housing needs for about 1,000 families in Longview, Kilgore, Henderson, Carthage and Beckville. She told advisory committee members that she wants better outreach in those towns and suggested the agency's message can be spread to area service groups, media, churches and other organizations.

"We've got to do better outreach in those rural areas," Marshall said. "A lot of our families in those rural areas don't move, because they don't think they have the options out there."

Longview Housing Authority scored high in its preliminary Section 8 Management Assessment Program yearly assessment, used by Housing and Urban Development as a performance measurement tool for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, she said.

However, Longview's monthly cost per housing unit increased from $414 a year ago to $455. Marshall blamed the increase on fair market rent, which has increased 23 percent in the Longview metropolitan area during the past two years, according to Housing and Urban Development.

Longview Housing can't change fair market rent, she said, but the best way to reduce per-unit costs is by using the zero-income checklist.

"Let's just be clear: no family can live off zero. Even homeless families — they're going to the missions to get breakfast, lunch, and they're going to another resource to get clothing," she said. "No one can live off of zero, and we know that our families aren't living off of nothing."

Advisory Committee Chairwoman Karen Holt said Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs takes its requirement even further, as people receiving state housing aid must provide a notarized letter that documents certain income and expenses.

Holt recommended that Longview Housing staff perform an assessment after a couple of months to determine what barriers are preventing zero-income families from climbing toward work and self-sufficiency.

"Everyday life requires some type of financial backing," housing staff member Adrienne Arthur said. "This has kind of been on the back burner as far as the zero-income checklists, so we're getting to a place now where we're analyzing this a little bit more than we have in the past."

Arthur said zero-income families will be required to attend a one-hour meeting every third Wednesday night of the month. Participants will submit their checklists and a log of their work search activities for the previous month, and certain resources such as interview help, financial management training or other services will be available, Arthur said.

"The basis of why this program was even founded years ago is not to just be a program for life," Marshall said. "This is kind of like a pass-through, so we're going to dedicate a lot more time to these families to see what those barriers are and try to help them conquer those barriers and get them back into the workforce."



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