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Funding dries up for housing program

September 09, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Funding for a transitional housing program in Hagerstown has dried up, and time is running out for five families living there.

The Community Action Council, which has owned the Transitional House on Virginia Avenue since 1987, informed residents last week that the program will shut down in December. Glenda Helman, the organization's director of services, said officials have kept the program alive since the state cut funding last year through a grant from the Maryland Affordable Housing Trust.

But that grant expires Dec. 1, and state officials blocked a grant application to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Helman said. Cheryl Walkley, executive director of the organization, said state officials told the group that HUD officials likely would have rejected the application because it supplants state funds.

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"It tears us apart that we have to do this," Helman said.

Helman said the Community Action Council plans to apply again for HUD funds during the next application process next year. Without funding, she said mortgage and maintenance commitments will force rents to rise by as much three times for the residents.

That will have a devastating impact on the five families who live there, several residents said.

"There ain't no way I can afford no $425," said Sharon Mays, who pays $150 per month for her one-bedroom apartment. "There's no way."

Mays, 34, who moved into the apartment in February after serving a 10-month jail sentence for uttering, said she has begun to build a new life for her and her two children. When she leaves, though, she does not know where she will go. She said her probation prevents her from moving in with her family in Frederick, Md., even if she wanted to.

Mays said case workers at the Community Action Council have helped her manage her budget and pay old bills. But she said she expected to be able to live in the Transitional House for 18 months before venturing out on her own.

"They said we would have 18 months to do what we need to do and now they dump us out and we don't know where to go," she said.

Helman said officials will work as hard as they can to soften the landing for the families, including helping them secure housing subsidies, find jobs and visit prospective landlords.

But some of the women expressed doubts they would be able to find a new place in three months. Telisa Nicholl, 28, said she applied for Section 8 assistance, a federal housing program that subsidizes rent in private buildings. But Nicholl, who moved into her one-bedroom apartment at the end of June, said she was told the waiting list is 12 to 24 months long.

Bonnie Barbe, 48, said she was told she cannot even get on the waiting list until she pays a $318 debt to the program. She said she moved into her one-bedroom apartment in July when she returned from an ill-fated attempt to repair her marriage in Georgia.

All three women said they fear the prospect of moving into public housing. They said drugs and violence make public housing unsafe for their children. Nicholl said she and her 4-year-old son saw the decay firsthand when she lived in a public housing complex in the West End.

"He wanted to go out and play and you couldn't even let him do that, it was so bad," she said.

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