GOSHEN — After nearly having to close its doors early last year due to financial troubles, the Goshen Housing Authority has worked its way back to stability.
According to Pam Kennedy, the executive director of North Central Indiana Housing, the consortium of which the GHA is a part, the housing program has clawed its way out of a financial mess that was a result of either misspent funds or simply poor accounting practices.
It wasn’t easy, especially considering cutbacks in federal funding, but the GHA has found its footing.
“They were struggling, now they’re stable,” Kennedy said.
Joining the local consortium of housing programs certainly played a large part in helping to steady the program.
Kennedy said the combining of the GHA, the Warsaw Housing Authority and the Kosciusko County Voucher Program under one umbrella agency, the NCIH, helped to lower costs for all the programs, allowing them to survive in a financial climate that is claiming many other small housing agencies.
“Housing authorities are closing down monthly now because of the funding cuts,” Kennedy said. “It’s happening all over the country, not just here.”
“It was a really good move for both the Goshen Housing Authority and the Warsaw Housing Authority,” Kennedy continued, adding that combining the programs under one roof in Milford kept the agencies “ahead of the curve” since there is now only one phone bill, utility bill and rent.
“By combining, we were able to avoid the cuts a bit,” she said.
Though the Goshen Housing Authority is enjoying some level of stability after a period of uncertainty, the agency still faces some challenges.
Kennedy said staffing for the GHA is about the same as it was before experiencing its financial issues, but that the workload keeps staff members “busy, busy, busy.”
As part of the cost-saving measures, she said, the housing agency had to keep staffing low anyway, whether the mismanagement of funds would have occurred or not.
“We’ve had to keep staff down to as few people as we can to make it,” Kennedy added.
The recent government sequester has hit the agency as well.
Overall, Kennedy said that around the year 2000, administrative fees were often around as high as 20 percent.
Now, administrative fees are down to about 9 percent due to the various cuts that have taken place in recent years.
Investigation into what exactly happened with the agency’s finances several years ago also continues, Kennedy noted, though she could not divulge any details of the investigation since it remains ongoing.
But despite the cuts and continued investigation, Kennedy said the Goshen Housing Authority is quite healthy and has been able to continue providing assistance to residents in need.
Currently, there are about 270 families receiving vouchers, which represents 84 percent of the agency’s 320-voucher capacity. That’s a statistic Kennedy said she’d like to see hit 100 percent by the end of the year.
To reach that goal, the GHA will host an invitation-only “Home for the Holidays” event on Dec. 12 in an effort to distribute the remaining vouchers.
GHA staff will be contacting 100 people on the voucher waiting list to invite them to Goshen City Church of the Brethren, where staff will conduct interviews with families and individuals to determine if they are indeed eligible for the program.
The hope is that by holding a highly visible event within the city and removing some of the usual “roadblocks” people may encounter, such as transportation or baby-sitting issues, which impede their ability to make their meeting, GHA staff will see a far better turnout than usual.
GHA staff will be assisted by interns — Goshen College social work students — who will help with baby-sitting and transportation to allow as many of the 100 people contacted to attend the interviews as possible.
With the “Home for the Holidays” event the first of its kind in this area, Kennedy said it will be a learning experience for staff, interns and the community as a whole.
“It gives the community an understanding of what the program is doing,” she said.
Kennedy said she will also hold a meeting for landlords the night before the event in order to explain the housing assistance program, which she admitted might be shrouded by misconceptions in some landlords’ minds.
“There’s a lot to teach them, too,” she said.