Sunday, February 16, 2003

Contribution chopped


Charity begins cuts at HOME

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For the United Way & Community Chest, HOME is not where the heart is.

The Tristate's philanthropic giant has targeted Housing Opportunities Made Equal for drastic cuts this year.

HOME is a 35-year-old nonprofit whose main roles are to expand housing and homeownership opportunities for the poor and to investigate and resolve housing discrimination complaints.

United Way has raised only $60.2 million of the $62 million it set as its 2003 goal. As a result, the United Way trimmed support for most programs it sponsors by up to 15 percent.

But HOME's United Way contribution was chopped in half, from $140,647 in 2002 to $70,690 this year.

The only other agency similarly cut was the Better Housing League, which went from $95,216 to $47,856. The league provides housing information, education and training in Ohio's Tenant-Landlord Law.

Outside the strategy

United Way officials have said these agencies don't fit the organization's strategic "vision areas." Carol Aquino, a spokeswoman, says the HOME cuts, however, are under appeal.

One of United Way's vision areas is "vibrant neighborhoods." The United Way picked several Cincinnati and two Northern Kentucky neighborhoods to focus its support on "neighborhood support corporations," she says.

HOME's services don't center on specific neighborhoods but on the people who live in them. But its lack of geographic focus shouldn't be held against it.

HOME handles about 400 to 450 discrimination complaints a year, mostly from people saying they were denied housing for reasons of race, children or physical disability, says Karla Irvine, executive director.

A growing number of complaints are from Hispanics, she says.

Better neighborhoods

HOME often investigates by sending "testers" (blacks, whites, Asians or Hispanics who pose as renters or buyers) to properties to document discrimination.

About 20 percent to 50 percent of complaints each year get resolved either through mediating the dispute, educating the property owner about housing laws, or filing civil rights lawsuits, Irvine says. Most other cases lack evidence or resolve themselves.

HOME has another role fraught with controversy. It helps people who hold Section 8 vouchers move to market-rate rental homes and apartments.

Section 8 vouchers are promises by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to help pay market rents. The vouchers are supposed to free people on government assistance from having to live in public housing in high-poverty neighborhoods, giving voucher holders options to live in financially stable communities.

Vouchers are supposed to lessen the load on low-income communities, something Cincinnati's officials say they want. Cincinnati is, after all, halting development of low-income and affordable housing in its high-poverty neighborhoods.

But some city neighborhoods and suburbs have balked, saying Section 8 residents bring with them crime and cleanliness problems.

HOME navigates this opposition to find Section 8-friendly properties and coax city dwellers to the suburbs.

Sometimes it's a difficult sell, but HOME seems to enjoy a community trust few other housing agencies possess, says David Varady, a planning professor at the University of Cincinnati. Last year, about 100 families moved out of high-poverty areas thanks to HOME.

"With HOME, one of the tasks is to try to provide people with choices they wouldn't ordinarily have,'' Varady says.

"They ... get people to widen their search and consider the suburbs."

E-mail damos@enquirer.com.




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