For Nevada Rural Housing Authority, affordable housing is the mission
Jeni Chavez knows what clients of Nevada Rural Housing Authority are going through because she’s been there, too.
Chavez, the authority’s director of rental and housing programs, recently moved to Nevada from Yuba City, Calif., where she worked her way up from receptionist to director of occupancy at a local housing authority there.
Before that, she was a client.
“A long time ago, when my children were young, a friend told me about Section 8 and we got in line around 2 in the morning to get a ticket,” said Chavez. “A few years later I got a letter that I was at the top of the list.”
Section 8 — a rental assistance program for low-income families funded by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — changed her life, Chavez said.
“I was able to get a better car and where I was living was rural, so I was able to use the car to get a better job and eventually I got off the program,” said Chavez. “I purchased the home I was renting.”
Chavez is one of 33 employees at Nevada Rural Housing Authority striving to put people in homes they can afford.
“We’re like a large family,” said Diane Arvizo, director of Homebuyer Services. “We all work like a spoke in a wheel. We all work on different projects with affordable housing as the mission.”
Chavez, for example, oversees Nevada’s program for Section 8, now called the housing first voucher program.
The program helps qualified low-income families with housing costs by paying a portion of their rent directly to their landlord.
The program still has a long waiting list, 3,000 currently, said Chavez. The only new program vouchers issued recently were vouchers for veterans. Nevada has a total of 81 so-called VASH vouchers, eight of which may be used for the Jeanell Drive Apartments. The 39-unit transitional housing development for the homeless is being built starting in April on Jeanell Drive at Carson Street.
Chavez and her department last year assisted 147 homeless families, who receive rent based on a sliding scale, for up to two years, as they work with other services, such as mental health or job skills counseling, to help them get on their feet.
Arvizo, who joined the housing authority almost a year ago from U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, runs the housing authority’s Home at Last program.
The program provides to qualified applicants grant money of up to 5 percent of a loan to pay for down payments and closing costs.
The authority works with 70 lenders and has trained 1,500 real estate brokers who assist homebuyers with using the program.
Homebuyers also can take advantage of a mortgage tax credit.
Since 2009, the program has helped 4,644 families acquiring a total of $870 million in mortgages and receiving $17 million in tax credits.
Home at Last also provides home ownership education, online and in person and in English and Spanish.
The authority offers a weatherization program, too, providing about $500,000 last year in grant money to help low-income families update their homes with insulation, weather stripping and other energy efficiency measures.
And it owns some housing, including the Southwood Apartments in Yerington, Pinion Apartments in Elko and senior housing in Winnemucca, as well as seven single-family homes in Carson City, Fallon and Sparks.
But, unfortunately, there is rarely enough when it comes to affordable housing.
“We did a study in 2014 for the 10 counties in Northern Nevada and an updated study for Tesla and one for Carson City,” Deputy Director William Brewer said. “We literally need thousands of units.”