Unique Partnership Helps Welfare Recipients
SAN FRANCISCO (ANS) - While President Clinton jawbones corporate executives to find jobs for welfare recipients, one city is asking another well-placed group -- landlords -- to step up to the plate.Fremont, Calif., population 180,000, has enlisted landlords in an unusual rent-reduction "scholarship" program to help those on welfare make the transition to work.Under the initiative, some welfare recipients get a break in rent, plus child care, while in job training. They pay as little as one-third of the going price for apartments, courtesy of building owners and real estate management companies.By lightening the rent burden, designers of the Housing Scholarship Program hope to ease the long, rough path through job training to steady work."I don't know where I'd be right now if it wasn't for the scholarship," said Delores Parkerson, a single mother of a 4-year-old daughter who was on Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the main federal welfare program.She does know, however, where she was -- in a garage with her baby, living in space rented out at $450 a month, which consumed all but $40 of her monthly AFDC check."On AFDC, I couldn't even afford a phone to have an employer to call you to ask you for a job interview," said Parkerson, a resident of Fremont in the San Francisco Bay area. With the scholarship, though, she was able to find a decent apartment for $260. That freed up enough money to put in the phone line and buy clothes for interviews, among other things most job-hunters take for granted.Last June, Parkerson entered a job training program that normally runs one to two years. She finished the program in five months and now works full time as a sales coordinator at a heavy equipment company -- earning $40,000 a year.The combination of job training and lower rent "made it possible for me to get back on my feet," Parkerson said.Fremont landlord Jim Reeder is a believer in housing scholarships. He has offered reduced rents on a dozen or more of his several hundred units at any one time in the four years he has participated in the Housing Scholarship Program. He has also worked with the local apartment owners' association to get other landlords involved.When the program began 10 years ago, a renter's market in the Bay area "made it attractive to apartment building owners to rent below market rate," said Reeder, owner of Glenmoor Realty. Since then, vacancy rates have dropped to as low as 1 percent, giving owners the advantage, and less of an impetus to rent at reduced rates.But landlords such as Reeder are still doing their part, noting that recipients of rent scholarships are more likely than others to pay on time and take care of their units. "All of the tenants involved have been model residents and neighbors," said Reeder. "It has been a real win-win situation for everyone."Currently there are 20 families in the city's Housing Scholarship Program, and as many as 20 applicants for each of the five to 10 slots in the program offered annually."Without local apartment owners as full partners working with us, then we wouldn't have the program at all," said May Lee, who oversees the program for the Office of Housing Services. She said 15 landlords have set aside units over the past decade and five are now doing so, offering rent reductions of 50 percent -- and in special cases 70 percent -- on market rate apartment units in Fremont.[EDITOR: STORY COULD END HERE.]To qualify, applicants must be in school or job training and be earning below 35 percent of the national median income. Since the program's inception in 1987, more than 100 welfare recipients have successfully gone through the program -- a success rate of more than 90 percent -- getting off welfare and back into employment. Once participants have completed the program, their rents are slowly increased to market rate over a period of months.Two nonprofit housing developers, with buildings currently under construction in Fremont, have pledged a total of six more units to the Housing Scholarship Program bringing the total to 26 units available to scholarship applicants.But with vacancy rates and housing starts low in the Bay area, Carol Lamont, director of Fremont's Office of Housing Services, expects only a slow rise in the number of units available to scholarship applicants.By any measure, the program is small, involving only a fraction of the 1,115 AFDC recipients in Fremont, a high-tech center. But city leaders and outside admirers say the scholarships have provided an illustrative experiment in genuine welfare reform.The results show that affordable housing is a critical element of the welfare-to-work transition, and a missing piece of the welfare overhaul passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton last year, according to supporters of the program.Combined with job training, affordable housing "provides the perfect bridge for people to become self-sufficient," said Fremont's mayor, Gus Morrison.Having arrived -- as a well-paid sales coordinator -- Parkerson is now giving something back. She volunteers as a mentor to help mothers on welfare through the rigors of job training.Parkerson is paying rent at the market rate, and not only that -- "I am saving up to buy my own home."SIDEBAR 138 words Other Cities Try Out "Housing Scholarships"(ANS) -- In developing the Housing Scholarship Program, Fremont officials examined other cities' approaches to affordable housing, and in turn their success has inspired nearby cities to emulate them.In San Mateo, across San Francisco Bay, the county is starting up the Housing Opportunities Program, modeled on the Fremont program, said Diana Linn, director. It is soliciting applications for about 35 slots."We looked at a program for affordable housing in Portland and another right here in San Mateo, but we were really interested in the success of the Fremont program," said Linn, whose program will offer one-year scholarships of 50 percent rent reductions for the first six months and 25 percent for the second six months. No job training is included.Dozens of other cities, including Temple, Texas, for example, have contacted Fremont for information about the program.--- Contacts: Delores Parkerson, resident, Fremont, Calif., 510-659-4112. Jim Reeder, president of Glenmoore Realty, Fremont, Calif., 510-793-4030. Gus Morrison, mayor, Fremont, Calif., 510-494-4811. May Lee, housing counselor, Office of Housing Services, Fremont, Calif., 510-494-4500. Carol Lamont, director, Office of Housing Services, City of Fremont, Fremont, Calif., 510-494-4500. Diana Linn, Housing Opportunities Program director, Human Investment Project, San Mateo, Calif., 415-348-6660.Background: Joan Fontana-Yoos, program manager, Mission Valley Regional Occupation Program, Fremont, Calif., 510-656-0533, ext. 3201, 510-656-8293.