CHAC An Update: 2003

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Many RJ readers might have heard there is a new program to help people with Housing Choice Vouchers buy their own homes. RJ readers are familiar with what used to be called the Section 8 Program. That program was phased out of existence in October 2000. What were referred to as the Voucher Program and the Certificate Program have now both been merged into the Housing Choice Voucher Program. There has been a bit of re-structuring and overhauling of the rules of eligibility.

It is always good to keep our information current by checking in with a few of the people responsible for running certain programs. In the case of the Housing Choice Voucher program, many of the old rules are still applicable. For example, there continues to be a waiting list for vouchers. One new thing that CHAC offers is a home ownership program.

Recently, I interviewed Kenneth Coles, who since the summer of 1999 has been manager of the Intake Department for CHAC, the private company which runs Chicago’s Housing Choice Voucher program. “The happy story, of course, is, when we came in ’95, the program along with Section 8 had not been run as well as it could have been run.

First, we had to bring the program into compliance. It was necessary to re-certify every client and inspect every unit. Our initial trust was to do those two things in 18 months,” said Coles. “Next, we had to update the waiting list which [consisted of] 47,000 applicants…when we walked through the door, and the list had not been open in about 10 years,” said Coles.

Coles explained how in 1995 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) came into Chicago and took over CHA, in part because of the way the voucher program was being run. HUD privatized some functions and programs within the CHA. Quadell, a consulting firm out of Washington D.C., got the contract to administer the CHA program. Quadell started CHAC to run day-to-day operations. “CHAC is who we are,” said Coles.

‘CHAC’ is not an acronym; it is the company’s full name. Explaining how ‘CHAC’ became the organization’s permanent name, Coles said, “The state of Illinois said no private, for-profit company can use the term housing in the title.” Coles updated me on his company’s progress. “The first couple of years was nothing more than fixing what was broken – open the waiting list and service the clients that were left on the waiting list.

‘Once we updated it, the list went from 47,000 to 15,000 [applicants]. We called those 15,000 and we were able to open the waiting list with new applicants in 1997. That’s become the list we’re working on right now. Looking at our list primarily meant determining eligibility. That included passing the criminal background check and of course we look at income eligibility levels for the program.

‘Also, the program guidelines stipulate if you have a conviction or are a registered sex offender, you have a lifetime ban; or have been convicted of manufacture or distribution of met amphetamines, you have a lifetime ban. Also, an arrest or a conviction within the past two years for drugs, guns or violent criminal activity would make someone ineligible.

“If you are found ineligible, everyone is entitled to a hearing. The figures show that about three to four percent of applicants are found to be ineligible because of the criminal background check.” CHAC has a well-laid-out and sophisticated World Wide Web site at www.chac.com. There, CHAC invites you to explore its Home Ownership Program.

Although HUD sets the final rules associated with the program, each housing authority nationwide develops its own home ownership program. According to Coles, “We partnered with several organizations. The only requirement for the Home Ownership Program is you have to be leased up somewhere with a voucher and join the Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) Program.

‘The FSS is a goal-oriented program [in] which as you progress through this process, you graduate…. As a component of the Home Ownership Program, to get into home ownership, you have to join FSS. Classes are held 4 nights a week, where they talk about budget and how to get your credit in order. As you progress, you are introduced to the associated lenders and real estate folks. The Spanish Coalition for Housing does courses also. What happens is that you are checked at each step along the way.

“Another requirement is that the applicant must earn at least $10,000 a year.” Rose Ann Zona heads the Home Ownership Program at CHAC. Zona said they had their first orientation meeting for the program in December 2001. By January 2002, they began running credit checks on people that completed applications to the program. Then by February 2002, they were able to start referring the applicants who passed their credit checks to the eight to 10 hours of homebuyer’s counseling, which is mandatory.

And in June 2002, they had their first closing. Zona said, “To date, we have had 25 successful closings and eight contracts pending. CHAC chose to do this program. However, we had to come up with a plan and develop it within our existing programs. One of the requirements is to join the FSS program and that is a work-related, goal-orientated program.

‘Normally, it is a volunteer program – however, to come into home ownership it is mandatory,” said Zona. Primarily, the subsidy for the home ownership program is for a maximum of 15 years. However, for persons with disabilities and seniors 62 and over, there is no maximum. Seniors and persons with disabilities are entitled to the subsidies until they pay their entire mortgage. FSS is a five-year program, Zona explained. Each applicant must start out with three goals. They are obligated to fulfill their goals.

Some add on to their goals. For some, it may be starting a business, saving money, credit repair or acquiring a GED. The FSS will link them up to services that can assist them in obtaining those goals. FSS will even connect participants to driver education classes, whether or not a voucher holder is interested in the Home Ownership Program or other services provided by FSS.

“In order to obtain a mortgage for a home, the most important is you have good credit,” Zona said. “The bank is going to loan you thousands of dollars. They want to know you can handle credit…. What the banks want to see is one year of no collections or delinquency….They are looking at good, established credit….There are closing costs and certain items the participant will have to pay….CHAC administers the program.”

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