The REALTORS® of West Central Minnesota believe it’s important for everyone to have a home, and that doesn’t always mean homeownership. Late in 2016, the 398-member board received a Housing Opportunity Grant that it used to partner with the Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care (CoC), a clearinghouse of resources and aid for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Thanks to a new system the grant has been promoting, a total of 72 new households have been established in the region, including at least 16 with school-age children.
It all began, says Sue Blumhoefer, Chief Executive Officer of the West Central Association of REALTORS® (WCAR), when one of its members, who serves on the board of the Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care (CoC), wondered if there was a REALTOR® Party grant that could help support the work of the regional aid organization. Blumhoefer investigated, and met with the CoC to determine how possible funding assistance from the REALTORS® could best meet its needs. With guidance from Christine Berger, the Minnesota REALTORS®‘ Vice President of Political Affairs, and the staff at NAR, WCAR applied for and received a Housing Opportunity Grant to promote and help implement the CoC’s new Coordinated Entry System.
This initiative, explains Blumhoefer, streamlines, standardizes, and shares information among the 20 separate agencies within the Southwest Minnesota CoC, which spans 18 different counties. “When a person or family is homeless or about to become homeless, they receive an intake assessment to be considered for all potential housing assistance from all CoC agencies. This will keep clients from having to go from agency to agency seeking help and having to go through a different assessment at each one. It also helps to match clients with the most appropriate assistance based on their level of need.”
The Housing Opportunity Grant, together with a contribution from WCAR, was put to work informing the public in the region about the new Coordinated Entry System. A new website, posters, and brochures in four languages, newspaper and billboard advertising, and a radio spot recorded by WCAR’s President Ann Anderson, got the word out: to date, the combined efforts of WCAR and the Southwest Continuum of Care have helped create 72 stable households for clients in a previous state of homelessness. The funding from the REALTORS® also supported a training event for those performing the new assessments, and provided starter kits for clients, containing Walmart gift cards for basic household supplies.
“This means stability for those housed, which means better school outcomes for the kids, better chances at finding work, and generally better health outcomes,” says Blumhoefer, noting that, “Ultimately, the goal is the get them to a point where they will be strong enough to move to homeownership.”
One 19-year old who was assessed by the new program had been couch-hopping, spending nights in Walmart and Cashwise, and was housed in a hotel a couple of times. He recently received keys to his own apartment, and with his gift card, was able to buy a shower curtain, garbage can, dish soap, broom/dustpan, bathroom rug, cooking pot, paper goods, and an oven mitt. “How awesome is it to know we helped from day one with the program used to qualify him, and then, made sure he had some basics to set up a home,” says Blumhoefer.
Now that it’s in place, the system the Housing Opportunity Grant helped fund will continue to help those in need in the 18-county area, and the REALTORS® are maintaining an ongoing partnership with the CoC, sponsoring community immunization fairs and a cell phone drive for senior clients. Says Blumhoefer, “We definitely couldn’t have done this without the grant from NAR!”
To learn more about how the West Central Association of REALTORS® is working to get all its neighbors into stable housing situations, contact Chief Executive Officer Sue Blumhoefer at 320-235-6881.