Public housing residents interested in the Family Self-Sufficiency Program may call 752-4813. Housing Choice Voucher program participants may call 752-4829.
Glenda Gardner is a 37-year-old single parent who grew up in public housing and has returned to live there again, but that's not where she wants to stay.
"I want my own independence," said the mother of two teenagers and one young adult. "Having a job brings something good within you. You're able to take care of yourself, stand on your own and you don't have to rely on public assistance any more."
Gardner says she wants to participate in the Chattanooga Housing Authority's Family Self-Sufficiency Program. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the agency $314,864 for the program this year, including $68,000 this month.
The program helps residents save money and encourages them to get off welfare and out of public housing, CHA officials said. This year's funding is the highest for CHA in at least six years, housing officials said.
"The intent is to encourage residents to look beyond public housing as an end-all," said Eddie Holmes, CHA board chairman. "People who are able-bodied need to be thinking about, 'What I can do to better myself.'"
The local HUD funding is part of $2.8 million recently awarded to public housing agencies across the state and $35 million across the country to increase residents' self-sufficiency.
CHA will use $68,000 to hire a second family self-sufficiency program coordinator. CHA also hired three coordinators this year to serve its 3,140 clients in the Housing Choice Voucher program, formerly known as Section 8.
Holmes cautioned that participants in the self-sufficiency program must be motivated to reach their goals for the program to be successful. Of the 2,551 families in public housing, only 21 participate in the program.
CHA says it wants to sign up five families from each of its seven housing sites. The program is open to any public housing resident or Housing Choice Program participant. However, it doesn't benefit people who are elderly or disabled.
Gardner, who works part time for Superior Catering, said she returned to public housing after the home she rented went into foreclosure. She said she wants her children to see her move out of public housing and be successful without housing assistance.
"They look at me as a mentor. If they see me accomplish some things, they'll know that they can accomplish them, too," Gardner said.
Jaleesha Parker is one of the self-sufficiency success stories. She grew up at the Harriet Tubman public housing site, got her own apartment when she turned 18 and enrolled in the program that same year. Four years later, in 2010, working as a food server in a nursing home and making $8.25 an hour, she had saved $2,500 for a down payment and bought her own home.
"I figured, 'I pay rent, I might as well pay a mortgage,'" she said.
Having the down payment and good credit helped her lower the amount of her monthly house note. She also got financial assistance from the city and Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise.
CNE gave her a second mortgage loan for $8,598. The city's HOME grant program gave her a third forgivable mortgage loan for $30,000, but it doesn't have to be paid back if she lives in her home for at least 10 years, CHA officials said.
"I didn't want to stay in public housing forever," said the 23-year-old homeowner. "I see public housing as a stepping stone for people who need it until you can better yourself."