Turning the Tide on Typical Low-Income Housing
47 N. Washington Ave.
Battle Creek, Michigan 49037
Homes+Services, a pilot program of Neighborhoods, Inc. of Battle Creek, approaches housing in a holistic way; it partners with others for job training, education and financial counseling.
It’s no longer enough to provide safe, sanitary, and subsidized housing to families living in poverty or from paycheck to paycheck. The multifaceted obstacles they face often require counseling, education, and other support to help on the path to self-sufficiency, says Bill Phillips, Neighborhoods, Inc. of Battle Creek’s president and CEO.
Using housing as the platform, NIBC’s Homes+Services program helps families overcome those obstacles through access to auxiliary services and job training programs, recognizing that families often need broader support after being displaced by job losses or dealing with underemployment or other financial setbacks.
The ultimate goal is for program participants to become secure in their housing situation, build family wealth, and become contributing members of healthy neighborhoods.
“It’s kind of a self-help program in a way,” says Phillips. “We think we have enough services in this community to help most families, but they have to stay engaged.”
"It's intended to be a new opportunity, a place a family can come for up to five years if they stay engaged with their sponsoring [referring] organization to increase skills, seek jobs and get themselves better positioned," Phillips says.
While some of the families include women with young children who have been homeless or staying with friends or family, it is not transitional housing or emergency shelter. “It’s intended to be a new opportunity, a place a family can come for up to five years if they stay engaged with their sponsoring [referring] organization to increase skills, seek jobs and get themselves better positioned,” Phillips says.
Program participants are often referred by area churches and agencies, such as Inasmuch House Haven of Rest, an emergency shelter for women and children. Referral agencies provide case management and help families seek out additional services, mentoring the family and keeping them engaged while in the program.
Unlike traditional subsidized housing or welfare entitlement programs, the family must commit to staying involved with their referring organizations. If they do not, their lease is terminated, which is not popular but necessary to maintain the program’s integrity.
“We take them and guide them the best we can,” Phillips says. “If they’re not making progress, not staying engaged with supportive providers, it puts us in a role to be the bad guy.”
Launched in 2012, NIBC uses its own housing stock for the program. The organization is willing to be flexible and nimble when it comes to programming, offering a hand up to willing and engaged families.
Phillips, who joined NIBC in 2009, formerly worked as senior vice president for real estate for the San Antonio Housing Authority, the largest housing authority in Texas. Homes+Services is modeled on the Housing and Urban Development Hope VI program Phillips worked with there.
Families who meet income eligibility requirements sign a lease and pay a portion for housing and utilities based on a percentage of gross monthly income. Some families pay $200 or $300 versus $800 they were paying for fair market rent and utilities.
Participation requires completing NIBC’s financial classes, participating in a regular review of the family budget, attending credit counseling, and working with their referring organization to ensure success. They also must participate in education or job training and placement programs and volunteer in the community.
If the program participants comply and stay involved in support services over five years, they have the option to buy a home
"We see the impact on families of the economy and daily life, especially people living in poverty. In many cases, they are giving up. We need to inspire and encourage them they can have success on some level," says Phillips.
through NIBC’s home-buying program. Success is defined in many ways, including physically maintaining the home and keeping it clean, improving school performance for children living in the home, attaining and maintaining a credit score of 580, and building a savings.
Whether it’s working with the Financial Opportunity Center and Goodwill Industries or Kellogg Community College, the long-term outcome is to help participants become workforce ready, seek job placement, and move into higher-wage jobs.
“It’s not an end destination,” Phillips says. “It’s intended to be a new beginning, a way to stabilize the family, stabilize the kids so they can stay in school, begin to grow and learn and be nurtured.”
People living in poverty, especially single moms with young children, face multiple challenges on the path to self-sufficiency. Many need more education, job training, professional attire, transportation, affordable childcare, and financial counseling.
NIBC’s programs serve to give families and their children hope and resources to create a better life. There is a lot of transient movement among families living on the brink or in poverty, which is very disruptive to a child’s learning. “We see so many kids in our housing work and lending work, and we can tell from their parents and from the way they are, they have decided there is just no future for them, the barriers are too high for them; they are fatigued,” he says.
“We see the impact on families of the economy and daily life, especially people living in poverty. In many cases, they are giving up. We need to inspire and encourage them they can have success on some level,” says Phillips.
At the base of NIBC’s programming is the mission to create healthy, stable, and safe neighborhoods. On a broader level, NIBC’s work aims to address the larger impact of a child’s home environment on their learning and emotional and mental development, understanding that neighborhood revitalization, housing issues, and early childhood education are inseparable.
A child’s ability to learn is diminished if their home environment and housing are precarious, so work begins at a fundamental level at NIBC.
“The family has to be supported as a unit and in a more holistic way. We do know from our own experience, if a child’s dad or mother is all stressed out or using drugs or participating in bad activities, the environment is not going to be conducive to learning,” says Phillips. “They are going to revert back to how the environment shapes them. The barriers, racial barriers, those are very real things, but not as near as tall of a barrier as a negative home environment.”