Tough odds

© 2017-Rochelle News-Leader

Housing assistance not easily obtained

This is the second in a series about housing shortages in the Rochelle area.

ROCHELLE — One for four.
For a major league baseball player, one hit in four times at bat makes for an average hitter. Yet, it’s still good enough to earn millions of dollars, marry a trophy wife and live in a McMansion.
In the low-income housing game, the figure means something else.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, only one person in four who applies for housing assistance across the country actually gets it. Although they don’t get the same benefits as a baseball player, they are considered “the lucky ones.”
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reports that $50 billion a year is spent on helping low income families find safe, decent and affordable housing. Although many are being helped, even more are not, mainly because there isn’t enough available housing.
Basically, there are two income-based programs designed to help those needing assistance: the public housing program and housing choice vouchers, more commonly known as Section 8.
The Housing Authority of Ogle County (OCHA), which was formed in 1945, currently owns and maintains 130 units, which are mostly apartments but also a few houses. They are located in Oregon, Polo and Forreston. Although Rochelle is the largest town in the county, none of the properties are located in the “Hub City.”
Why there are no properties in Rochelle is a question OCHA Executive Director David Ditzler has wondered himself.
“I’ve heard that when the program first started, Rochelle was approached, but they weren’t interested,” he said. “It all boils down to community support.”
Unfortunately, Ditzler said there is a misconception about those who seek public housing. The truth is most are decent, hard working people who simply don’t make enough money to afford the rent for a safe, affordable place to live.
“People don’t ask to be in this situation,” he said.
Due to low wages and other factors, the Coalition reports that most low income families often pay more than 50 percent of their income toward housing. The ideal rate is 30 percent.
Should something unexpected happen that they have no control over, such as an illness, a decrease in working hours or a death in the family, families can lose their housing. Without family or friends or other help, they can eventually become homeless.

According to HUD 2017 figures, the fair market rent for an efficiency apartment in Rochelle this year will cost $474; a one-bedroom, $542; a two-bedroom, $721; three bedroom, $985; and a four bedroom, $1,174.
In order to meet the costs of a two-bedroom apartment, for instance, HUD estimates a family would need to earn $25,680, the equivalent of one and a half jobs at minimum wage.
As of May 1, there is a waiting list of 116 families, including 11 from Rochelle, meaning that if approved they would be willing to relocate.
When there is a vacancy, the OCHA staff decides what family is most qualified for it, based on many different factors.
“We’re not going to pay for more than someone needs,” Ditzler said, explaining that a person needing a one bedroom unit will not be offered one with three bedrooms.
Sometimes a family’s situation has changed since they applied and they may have to turn it down. When that happens, their name goes back on the list, only at the bottom.
Under the Section 8 program, a housing voucher pays the difference between a family’s rent and what they can afford to pay. It is usually based on 30 percent of their gross income.
Once the OCHA approves a family for a voucher, they have 90 days to use it. In some cases, Ditzler said, a family loses its voucher because they can’t find a place that will take it. Unlike the other program, in which the OCHA looks for a place for them to stay, a family under the voucher system must find their own place to live.
Once they find a place, a family must sign a one-year lease. After that, they are free to use the voucher anywhere in the country they want, so long as it’s a place that uses the voucher system.
According to Ditzler, Ogle County is limited to the number of public housing units and vouchers it can have. They can rebuild an existing unit, if it should become substandard, but they can’t add on to it. There are currently no plans to apply for more of either right now.
As of May 1, the waiting list includes 161 families, 45 of them from Rochelle.
Currently, 61 families in Rochelle are being assisted in the program.
Ditzler said there is another program in Rochelle, called the project-based voucher program, but that is not affiliated with the OCHA. According to the HUD website, these vouchers are a component of a public housing agency which can attach 20 percent of its voucher assistance to a specific housing unit if the owner agrees to either rehabilitate or construct the units, or to set aside a portion of the units in an existing program.
According to an OCHA report there are 773 apartments in Rochelle, of which 168 are income-based for seniors and the disabled, and 48 income-based units for other individuals and families.
Based on a July 2015 report, Rochelle has an estimated population of 9,306, of which 10 percent, or 950, are living at the poverty level.
Besides the OCHA, other local organizations that assist low income with housing are Tri-County Opportunities Council, HOPE of Ogle County, townships, and a few local churches. HOPE only helps victims of domestic abuse while the latter two are limited to short term emergencies only.
In another report, the OCHA reports that local churches offer what support they can.
In the past three years, the St. Patrick Catholic Church Outreach received rent requests if $19,949 in 2014, $36,809 in 2015 and $23,899 in 2016 while providing rent help of $5,853 in 2014, $6,605 in 2015 and $3,879 in 2016. In the last two years, the United Methodist Church of Rochelle provided $7,688 for rent help in 2015 and $5,947 last year.
For more information, contact the OCHA at 815-732-1301. Registrations for either public program must be done in person at 200 Washington Street, Oregon. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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