When asked if I want the good news or the bad news first, I generally prefer the good news in advance, hoping that spoonful of sugar will help the medicine go down more easily. But sometimes I don’t get a choice. Such was the case on April 25th when I realized that the Housing Program at the Southeastern Arizona Governments Organization (SEAGO) – at least as we have known it – had reached the end of the road. This realization came when Julie Packer, our Housing Programs Manager gave notice that she was leaving the organization for another employment opportunity after having served the region for nearly 23 years.
In her service to the SEAGO region, Julie provided homeownership counseling to literally thousands of prospective homeowners that enabled many of them to achieve the American Dream of homeownership. By receiving homeownership education, qualified clients were able to access funding for down payment and closing cost assistance to purchase homes. And later, if they found themselves struggling to make their mortgage payments, they could receive post-purchase education, financial education, delinquency or default assistance, and in some cases, foreclosure prevention assistance to reduce the amount of loan principle and make their payments more affordable – thus enabling them to retain their homes. We at SEAGO, and the many clients she assisted, greatly appreciate Julie’s dedication and service to the SEAGO region and truly wish her the very best.
The demise of the Housing Program didn’t happen as abruptly as it sounds. With the onset of the Great Recession, funding sources that helped pay program expenses began to evaporate. As a result, maintaining service levels required that we use reserve funds that had been set aside during better times. But with the number of homeowners in crisis declining, with Julie’s departure, and with insufficient funding left to recruit an experienced housing professional to replace her, there was little choice but to suspend Housing Program services indefinitely. Individuals seeking housing counseling services and past Housing Program clients with questions can visit our website at http://seago.org/?q=housing where they will find instructions on who to call for assistance.
Fortunately, within a few days, some good news helped wash away some of our frustration and disappointment. First, we learned that the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona had awarded our Mobility Management Program a grant in the amount of $200,000 per year over a three year period. In the first year of the grant, we intend to use the funds to develop a pilot program that will provide public bus service from Douglas to Bisbee, and then on to Sierra Vista; expand the services of the Volunteer Interfaith Caregiver Program into the communities of Douglas, Bisbee, Tombstone, Elfrida, and Willcox; expand the services of the Senior Citizens of Patagonia to the Sonoita area; expand the Douglas to Sierra Vista Feasibility Study to include a Sierra Vista to Benson route; return a functional level of transportation services to the Willcox area; institute a mini-grant program that can be used to build capacity, enhance services, or to assist with local matching requirements for federal or state transit grants; and hire a part-time Grant Coordinator that will monitor this grant and assist local agencies in the development of grant opportunities. Needless to say, we are extremely excited about the grant award and look forward to our new partnership with the Legacy Foundation.
And soon thereafter, more good news - the Arizona Legislature passed a budget that includes $700,000 in one-time funding to partially restore cuts in recent years to Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) for senior citizens. These services help individuals live independently in their homes and communities and avoid costly hospitalization and nursing home care at the local taxpayers’ expense, so we were encouraged that the Legislature heard the voices of advocates for the elderly across the State. While encouraged, we were also disappointed that the funds are one-time in nature and amount to only 26% of the $2.67 million requested by the Arizona Department of Economic Security for HCBS. We will continue our education and advocacy efforts in this area, and hopefully, the State’s economy will continue to improve, and permanent, increased funding levels for HCBS will be included in next year’s budget.