The Casper Housing Authority is focused on providing affordable housing options to low-income workers and families via a Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, according to CHA Executive Director Kim Summerall-Wright.
Summerall-Wright told Oil City on Wednesday, March 27 that the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is trying to move away from their old public housing model.
“HUD is really pushing to get rid of public housing nationwide,” Summerall-Wright said. “Public housing is an old, old program, so it has old, old rules.”
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Summerall-Wright added that the old public housing model provides limited funding to public housing agencies for things like property repairs.
“HUD gives us $89,000 for the modernization of 79 properties,” she explained.
Summerall-Wright said that the 79 public housing properties that CHA manages are scattered throughout Casper, which makes it difficult for her office to oversee. In addition, she said that when CHA or residents of these units want to make changes to the properties, HUD’s approval process can be complicated.
She said that HUD has strict rules when it comes to public housing. They don’t allow things like barbecue grills, air conditioning units, washers, dryers or dishwashers as these are considered nonessential.
Summerall-Wright said the limited funding and the rigidity of those rules make it difficult for the CHA to carry out its mission. She said that while providing affordable housing was the priority, CHA is committed to doing that in a way that helps put people on a path toward greater independence and dignity.
For that reason, Summerall-Wright says she is a big proponent of the RAD program. She said that CHA is the only public housing agency in the state that is implementing this program.
“Public housing units across the country need more than $26 billion in repairs and many public housing agencies (PHAs) do not have enough money to keep units in good condition,” a HUD website explaining the RAD program states. “RAD provides PHAs a way to rehabilitate, or repair, units without depending on additional money from the government.”
“RAD allows PHAs to convert a public housing property’s HUD funding to either: Section 8 project-based voucher (PBV); or Section 8 project-based rental assistance (PBRA),” the website continues. “This conversion of funding to Section 8 contracts lets PHAs borrow money to make needed repairs.”
Summerall-Wright said that CHA applied for the RAD program five years ago. She said that RAD is a public/private partnership program, which gives CHA a lot more flexibility when it comes to providing quality, affordable housing options.
She explained that there are a couple of things CHA is trying to accomplish. First, CHA is trying to address the issue of having properties scattered throughout the City.
In order to do that, she said CHA plans to sell 35 of 36 public housing units in North Casper. Summerall-Wright explained that instead of pouring money into repairs and repainting of these properties, CHA is focused on bringing families and workers to their Ravencrest and CentrePoint Apartments.
The Ravencrest Apartments are located behind Blue Ridge Coffee off of Wyoming Boulevard.
“This is where we want to get our people,” Summerall-Wright said.
The apartments were full as of January 31, she said. There are one, two, three and four bedroom apartments at Ravencrest and they give residents a more modern housing experience. They’re also more spacious than the public housing units many moved from.
“Space is almost double what they had,” Summerall-Wright said.
Summerall-Wright added that providing housing in an apartment complex makes it easier for CHA to manage the properties and makes it easier to coordinate some of the other services that CHA provides, such as daycare transportation and organized trips to the grocery store or summer food programs.
Summerall-Wright said that all of Ravencrest’s apartments have a washer and dryer, a microwave and fridges.
“Here, these are not luxuries, they are standard,” she said.
The CentrePoint Apartments are geared mostly toward workforce housing, Summerall-Wright explained. But she said that having both CentrePoint and Ravencrest gives people some lifestyle options, with CentrePoint offering downtown living while Ravencrest provides a community suited to families.
Ravencrest has a club house that is always open but that residents can use for things like birthday parties or other community gatherings. There is a pergola, a playground for children and a community gardens will be planted once the weather permits.
“It’s a totally different way of approaching housing,” Summerall-Wright said.
She added that providing these options can give people a greater sense of dignity, which she said is important as CHA tries to help people work toward greater independence.
“Even though we are a housing authority, we really try to focus on the whole person,” Summerall-Wright said.
The CentrePoint Apartments offer a rooftop deck, an exercise room and the “only free laundry in Casper,” according to Summerall-Wright. They are located at 333 East A Street, which means residents live right downtown.
“The idea is we’re giving out tenants the most choice we can,” Summerall-Wright said. “Our job is to give you the skills for you to live anywhere.”
She pointed to the modern look of the Ravencrest Apartments as a way to encourage people to take pride in their homes.
“You can’t tell who is or isn’t on assistance,” Summerall-Wright added, pointing out that not all of Ravencrest’s tenants receive assistance. “That’s how you can tell the model is working.”
She mentioned what one resident told her after moving to Ravencrest following some financial turbulence.
“‘When I came here, it’s like dignity,'” Summerall-Wright said he told her.
She added that CHA has seen 26 families that previously relied on housing assistance purchase housing in the last four years.
“We know what we’re doing is working, we just need to keep going,” she said.
Despite the positive direction Summerall-Wright said she sees CHA taking with these and other projects, she said there is more work to be done.
A 2018 Natrona County Housing Report conducted by the Wyoming Business Council found that Natrona County had a shortage of 1,466 rental units for low-income families.
“A lack of the right type of housing for the people who live in an area can lead to issues of affordability, quality and suitable space for family size,” the report reads.