Increases in funding for homeless and housing programs was applauded in a roundtable meeting held Monday morning at the Hillsboro Business Center on North High Street, which had as its objective the addressing of housing problems that exist in Highland County and what is being done to address them.
The roundtable forum was chaired by Julia Wise, executive director of the Highland County Community Action Organization; state Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro); Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio; and Gregory Thirtyacre, president of NCJC Housing & Development Foundation, an Ohio non-profit corporation.
Also in attendance were representatives from state and local organizations directly involved in helping people that face what Marcus Roth of the CHHO called, “housing challenges.”
“We want to bring to a public forum the problems that are facing Highland County regarding housing security and homelessness,” he said. “And we’ll be looking at what is being done with these organizations to address the problem.”
According to data supplied on the 91st Ohio House District by Wilkin, Highland County has nearly 5,000 renter households and 1,554 extremely low income households.
The data showed that in order for a renter household to be able to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment, they would need to make at least $13.12 an hour for a 40-hour week. But the data revealed that the average Highland County renter made just $9.15 per hour, and many struggled to get 40 hours per week.
“Too many people are having to spend half their income on their rent,” Faith said in his opening comments. “When that happens, the other needs of the household suffer, whether it’s transportation, clothes for the kids or putting food on the table, and our figures show that 25.7 percent of the households in Highland County are in that number.”
He expressed gratitude to Wilkin and his fellow members in the Ohio legislature for including an amendment in the recently signed Ohio budget that will give the Ohio Housing Trust Fund about $2.5 million annually, which he said is the first increase in 16 years.
The main source of state funding for local homeless and housing development programs is the OHTF, which he said has helped low income Ohioans get safe and affordable housing for more than 25 years, with nearly 2 million Ohioans finding housing stability.
He said the trust fund helps many communities, particularly in rural counties like Highland County. By statute, the fund must grant 50 percent to rural communities and requires a 100 percent local match.
“The trust fund has really been the primary source of funding for homeless programs in the state,” he said. “We also do home repair and accessibility programs in the Community Action network, and with the Area Agencies on Aging help with keeping seniors and the disabled to stay in their homes.”
Housing, according to Wise, is something most take for granted.But for her the subject was brought close to home three years ago during a similar meeting to the one held Monday.
“We had the opportunity to sit down with individuals and individual families, and we posed the question ‘if you woke up tomorrow and could have anything you wanted, what would it be?’” she said. “And this one woman, who lived in a mobile home and had small children, said all she wanted was to have her floor fixed — not a million dollars, but just to get her floor fixed, and with the trust fund, we were able to do that.”
Thirtyacre said the goal of the trust fund program is to allow the public sector to become more fully involved with public housing, and does not involve the government imposing new taxes and then turning the money over to a contractor to complete the work.
“We do the same thing as what is done with Section 8 housing,” he said. “The big difference in this program is the public has an opportunity to get involved and invest in it, which means we take the money that they invest and rehab the project, and by getting the public involved and allowing them write it off through banks and that type of thing, it frees up more dollars and lets you offer people a nicer place to live.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.