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Housing authorities get funds to help families land jobs

Nine area housing authorities will be helping financially struggling families get the services they need to compete for jobs through new federal funds.

Chelsea, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Medford, Methuen, North Andover, Revere, and Somerville are among 27 communities that will get portions of $3.4 million awarded to Massachusetts by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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The funding will allow the recipients to retain or hire 59 coordinators to help public and assisted-housing residents connect with educational, job training, child care, and other services needed to land the employment they need to climb out of poverty.

“It’s always helpful, because we are dealing with folks that have a lot of obstacles in the way to becoming self-sufficient,” Gary K. Wallace, executive director of the Lowell Housing Authority, said of his agency’s $130,558 award.

HUD’s grants are through two Family Self-Sufficiency  programs, one that serves people who receive rental vouchers and the other that serves people living in public housing. Lowell’s funding will allow it to retain a coordinator for each program.

Wallace said 40 people are in the program serving voucher holders, which the authority has offered for about 15 years, and about 27 are being served by the program for public housing tenants, which the authority began with additional HUD funds a year ago.

The coordinators assist participants in signing up for GED or adult education classes, seeking admission to community college, or finding help with résumé writing and career services.

They also help connect them with such services as nutrition counseling and child care, and provide workshops in financial literacy.

“And it’s personal contact,” Wallace said. “There can be mentoring-mentee relationships, which can be important.”

As with all participants in the two HUD programs, those enrolled in Lowell sign five-year contracts in which they pledge to obtain employment and have all of their household members off welfare by the end of the term. If the family’s income rises, any increased rental charges are placed in an escrow account they are allowed to keep if they complete their contract.

Wallace said the program is well worth the investment, noting that it can be life-changing to move into your own home and become self-sufficient.

The Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development’s Family Self-Sufficiency service has grown as a result of the agency’s partnership with the Boston-based nonprofit Compass Working Capital.

For many years, the authority hired two coordinators, one to work with public housing tenants and one to work with rental voucher recipients. But using part of a multiyear philanthropic grant it secured in 2010, Compass since has been providing the authority with an additional coordinator to work with the voucher recipients.

Compass offers an innovative new model in which participants receive not only referrals to services but financial education and coaching.

Before enrolling, those in the Compass program must complete three workshops, on budget and goal setting, credit repair and debt management, and saving and asset building. After they enroll, participants work with a financial coach who helps them reach their goals, according to Sherry Riva, founder and director of Compass.

“We essentially lead families through that process that says where are you, where do you want to be, what steps do you need to take to help you get there,” said Riva, whose organization has started a similar program for the Cambridge Housing Authority.

Based on the success of the model — which has resulted in the overall number of Family Self-Sufficiency participants in Lynn increasing from about 40 to 150 — HUD added funding in the recent grant round to pay for the coordinator that Compass is providing, bringing Lynn’s recent overall grant award to $174,352.

“They’ve got a great model; it’s financial coaching and asset building,” said Norm Cole, the Lynn authority’s director of planning and development. “We’ve seen the results of it. It’s sort of unique, and I think it’s been highly effective in motivating these families to participate in the program and to succeed.”

The Malden Housing Authority was awarded $124,468 to retain its two coordinators — one for public housing tenants and one for voucher recipients — approximately what the agency has received the past several years, according to its executive director, Steve Finn.

“It’s the best program out there on the state or federal side in terms of incentivizing families to help them move on from assisted housing,” said Finn.

The Somerville Housing Authority has two coordinators, one for each program. But in the latest grant round, it was awarded funds — $62,392 — only for the coordinator serving voucher recipients.

But Linda Deprofio, the authority’s director of rental assistance, said the coordinator for the public housing tenants is covered through June and the agency plans to seek funds to keep the other position going beyond that and reapply for HUD funds in the next round.

Gay Cataldo, the coordinator for voucher recipients, noted that over the past 10 years, she is aware of 15 to 20 people who became homeowners during the course of their contracts. Currently, the program has about 50 participants.

“I sit with them and find out what their needs are, from ESL classes to GED classes,” she said, noting that most are women, and many aspire to become nurses.

Idyle Blanc, the coordinator for public housing tenants, also sees the benefits.

“They need a little help and don’t know what’s out there,” she said. “Our job is to help them, to guide them that way.”

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.

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