Friday, October 31, 2008

Housing market hits those without houses, too

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2008 at 9:00 AM

By DAVID MARTIN

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The beleaguered housing market is making an impact on homelessness in a way that has nothing to do with foreclosures.

Jackson County charges a $3 document fee on real-estate transactions. The county's Housing Resources Commission distributes the money to shelters and agencies that work to prevent homelessness.

The fund did well when home sales were robust and low interest rates encouraged refinancing. But in 2006, the county spent $796,000 while receiving $533,000 in fees. The county expects to receive just $388,000 this year.

At a meeting last week, members of the Housing Resources Commission, which is chaired by Legislator James D. Tindall, discussed the idea of raising the $3 fee. But state lawmakers and voters would have to approve the change, meaning no help is available in the short term.

Evie Craig, the executive director of ReStart, a shelter and support agency, says the Housing Commission has warned providers not to expect the grants they have received in the past. "Given what's happening with real estate, I don't think any of us are surprised," she says.

Community Services League, which serves eastern Jackson County, received $30,000 from the Housing Resources Commission this year, down from $50,000 in previous years, according to Executive Director Sue Crumpton.

Crumpton says the funding cuts come at a time when more families face eviction and foreclosure and food in the agency's pantry is running low. The Community Services League emphasizes homelessness prevention. The agency uses some of the money it receives from the county to negotiate with landlords and banks. Sometimes, a couple hundred dollars can buy enough time for homeowners and families to stay in their dwellings. "It’s 10 times easier to keep people housed than it is to get them housed once they become homeless," Crumpton says.

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