The Tri-State Housing Task Force Summit will begin at 8:30 a.m.Thursday at the Rialto Banquet Center, with stakeholders from the local to federal levels discussing resources to combat homelessness and help make more homes available throughout the area.
North East Community Action Corporation (NECAC) is hosting the event. Agency representatives will join members of Two Rivers Regional Council of Public Officials and Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission to present projects like NECAC's weatherization program and homeownership courses. NECAC's Deputy Director of Housing Development Carla Potts has been instrumental in setting up the summits each year to help determine new solutions for improving and increasing housing stock in the area to helping more people find homes, said Jason Mohr, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regional administrator.
"I met with [NECAC] a couple months ago, and I was not only surprised, but intrigued by all the different solutions and innovative practices they've had to come up with to help rehabilitate homes and work with people who are first-time homebuyers."
NECAC serves as a housing counseling agency that provides information and assistance with the paperwork and other aspects for a home loan, budgeting education and help with restoring credit, Mohr said. National studies have shown that homeowners who receive housing counseling services are 30 percent less likely to face foreclosure. HUD recently provided $43 million in funding for housing counseling services across the U.S.
NECAC receives HUD funds for counseling efforts and projects like the weatherization program, which included a new furnace, windows and sealing efforts for Hannibal homeowner Cora Glenn. Michael Groff benefitted from NECAC's housing counseling services to help with the purchase of his home. Glenn and Groff will each speak during the summit to talk about the benefits of the program.
Mohr said the summit is an effective way to discuss solutions for homelessness as it increases in rural areas — it is not always as visible, he said, because some people are "couch surfing" from one house to another or possibly staying in an abandoned farm house or other structure. HUD has a variety of plans to help reverse these homelessness trends and work to make more opportunities for housing in the Hannibal area and across the nation. And he commended the teamwork that is evident when members of smaller communities work to tackle homelessness.
"I think a good thing about small towns is that people come together when they see an issue, through their churches... and try and pool money to help people out more than urban areas," he said.
Mohr said HUD officials are reaching out at the federal and local levels to streamline processes like the Housing Choice Voucher program — also known as Section 8, which allows applicants to choose a home anywhere they wish once they are approved. HUD officials have been working with landlords to make the process easier. They told HUD officials they faced too much red tape in the process and long lag times before residents could move in, and Mohr said HUD is working to change that.
In addition, HUD is working on Opportunity Zones that provide tax breaks to investors to stimulate housing development in areas without strong business zones or with neighborhoods in need of renovation.
Manufactured homes can be an affordable solution for homeowners, Mohr said. NECAC is working through the ASPIRE program, which enables inmates to construct homes for area homeowners in correction centers like Bowling Green and Vandalia. Last week, manufactured homes were brought in by aircraft and displayed in the National Mall in Washington D.C. — marking the first demonstration of this type of housing in that location.
Mohr said he is eager to talk about what HUD has planned and learn about the projects from several local agencies during the summit with the theme "There's no place like home." He commended Potts of NECAC for her efforts in setting up the summits since 2005.
"Carla Potts has been doing a great job in lining these up.... and it just seems like it's gotten bigger and better every year, he said. "I'm looking forward to it."