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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Housing Authority offers help to those in need

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Michael Hagemeyer
Sometimes people need a little help. That's what the employees at the Brazil Housing Authority (BHA) believe, and they do what they can.

Created in 1967 and physically established in 1973 with the building of the first public housing building, Cooper Towers, the BHA has helped many residents find affordable housing.

"Creating public housing is a challenge," Executive Director Michael Hagemeyer said. "There is a lot of competition. If you want something new, so does everyone else. There is also the NIMBY situation. That's the 'not in my backyard' attitude that many people have toward public housing. That stereotype is very hard to get past."

The stereotype that Hagemeyer is talking about is that only poor people, old people or deadbeats live in public housing.

"Incorrect," Hagemeyer said. "We do have residents with low incomes. Obviously you must meet income eligibility to receive assistance, but it isn't just the income. Older adults on fixed incomes, families down on their luck, and people who just need a little time to get back on their feet after life has thrown something traumatic at them have all been residents."

Families do play a large part in public housing. Currently, there are 60 families living in Central West Village, the first family housing development in Brazil. There are 86 families in Section 8 housing around the town.

"We have a lot of families," Hagemeyer said. "Many were in their own homes, but with job downsizing, they've lost them and need a little help."

Hagemeyer said that residents must meet federal guidelines, and those guidelines are pretty strict.

"The guidelines limit who can receive assistance, and what type of assistance they get," Hagemeyer said. "They have rules that need to be followed and we encourage family members to find good jobs and get an education. Even after finding a job, housing is the last assistance that people give up. We do have tenants who abuse the system, but many of our families are trying to do the right thing."

Seniors who are on fixed incomes, or disabled also must qualify for assistance. Currently, there are more than 200 residents in the three buildings, Cooper Towers, Meridian Towers and Jackson Garden.

Hagemeyer said that they do have vacancies, because there isn't a great demand by seniors at this time.

"As the population ages, not as many people feel the need to get into public housing now," Hagemeyer said. "This is good news for this area, because we have a higher than average rate of residents in public housing than most areas in the state."

The BHA does have residents in the program as a result of drug use, but very few.

"Drug usage affects our ability to help," Hagemeyer said. "We had a resident lose her apartment because a visitor was on the 'no trespass' list. Police were called and the visitor was searched and drugs were found. Because this happened in her apartment, she lost her place. It's a sad situation."

The 'no trespass' list is a monthly list of people who are not allowed on public housing property because they've caused problems, had restraining orders, or other reasons.

The BHA is federally funded through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to Hagemeyer, they receive only 80 percent of funds needed to do their job.

"We must be creative to make up the rest," Hagemeyer said.

The BHA is definitely creative. Currently they are starting phase I of a demo plan. They are taking three apartments on each side Cooper Towers and turning them into two apartments. Basically increasing living space from 400 square feet to 600 square feet.

"I love Cooper Towers," Hagemeyer said. "I'd live there if I was older. It's big enough, and a well thought out floor plan."

In addition to the BH, the building also houses the Clay County Benevolence Ministry, and does work with the Hamilton Center. These organizations get their space rent-free.

"Above all else, our residents have major life experience," Hagemeyer said. "The stories they tell are amazing. We know that we've helped so many people in this town. We get letters all the time thanking us for helping people get back on their feet. That's what makes this all worthwhile."

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