Public housing in Chattanooga used to be a place that showed little promise for residents. Generations of families found themselves living in these communities with little motivation to break the cycle. However, new programs are not only breaking the cycle, but instilling pride and promise for those enrolled. It’s through these programs that former public housing resident Constance Dunnigan gained back her confidence and independence.
Chattanooga Housing Authority’s Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) and Ready to Work programs help residents save money and encourage them to get off welfare and out of public housing. Through the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA), the FSS program sets goals for residents of leaving public housing in five years or less.
In addition to giving access to valuable support services, THDA establishes a savings (or escrow) account for FSS families when their earned income increases from obtaining a job or receiving a job-related promotion or raise. When a Housing Choice Voucher participant's income increases, their family contribution toward rent also increases. This money is placed in a “savings” account for the family.
When the family completes their contract of participation and/or becomes free of public assistance, they are eligible to receive the balance of their account.
When Constance Dunnigan entered public housing, she didn’t see much success in her future. Then one day, in her own words, “her nosiness” led her to wander into a meeting hosted by Takeyta Young, CHA Family Sufficiency Coordinator. Through that meeting and connecting with Young, Dunnigan found a job in CHA’s Ready to Work program.
“I was very down on my luck with little drive to get off the couch most days,” Dunnigan says. “Takeyta motivated me and helped me believe that I should be doing more for myself. I learned that it’s never too late to get your life on track.”
Through the Ready to Work program, Dunnigan began working as a Direct Support Professional. In her role, she went to the homes of individuals with physical and mental disabilities and offered assistance with homemaker services including cooking, light housework and any other help she could provide.
Today, Dunnigan is a manager in charge of other Direct Support Professionals – the position that lanched her toward self-sufficiency. Through the FSS and Ready to Work programs, Dunnigan was able to save money, get her credit score up and move out of public housing in four years. She earned her Associate's Degree and will graduate with her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from Dalton State College in one year.
She is also enjoying her vacation time – a luxury she wasn’t able to afford previously.
“Success stories like Constance’s make us proud of the work we do everyday at CHA,” Young says. “We want all of our residents to be successful and grow so that they can eventually become self-sufficient and gain their independence.”
The Chattanooga Housing Authority, chartered in 1938 pursuant to the Tennessee Housing Authorities Law, offers affordable housing opportunities through its Low Income Public Housing Program in Chattanooga and the Housing Choice Voucher Program throughout Hamilton County. To learn more about CHA, visit chahousing.org. You can also follow them on Twitter @Chatt_Housing or like them on Facebook at fb.com/CHAHousingAuthority.