New Lease on Life: ECHO Programs Lend Hand to Homeless

January 01, 1999
By  Judy Armstrong

When Debra Kay was first released from prison, rebuilding her life appeared to be quite a challenge. She had no place to live and had lost custody of her daughter. Her attempt to turn her life around began at the Goodwill Shelter for the homeless. But after spending a year there and reuniting with her daughter, who was now 10 years old, Kay wanted more than just somewhere to stay.

"I had used drugs for 23 years, so I needed the stability of a structured program," Kay said. "As I became stronger it was time to move forward with a program that included housing for my daughter."

She found her answer through ECHO (the Evansville Coalition for the Homeless) and its transitional housing program, which provides supportive housing for homeless families with children—with an ultimate goal of moving them into permanent housing.

Kay, who now serves on ECHO's board of directors, has realized that goal, she says. "Now I'm leaving the program and moving into my very own home."

ECHO was created in 1988 by area religious, social service and government agencies seeking to increase public awareness of homelessness in the Evansville area. ECHO identified housing as one of two critical needs (health care being the second) for homeless and low-income individuals.

As a result, ECHO provided start-up funds to form the ECHO Housing Corporation in 1991. ECHO began by offering transitional and rental housing, but now offers a Lease-to-Purchase Program, as well.

Transitional Housing

ECHO has 20 two-, three- and four-bedroom units in the Lucas Place Apartments that are designated for the Transitional Housing Program. To qualify, a family must have proof of homeless status; current income at or below 60 percent of the median income for family size; a recommendation from an area shelter, social service agency or appropriate referral source; a willingness to follow the program's rules and regulations; and a desire to become self-sufficient. Once a family has been accepted into the Transitional Housing Program, it must meet for regularly scheduled home visits with the program coordinator.

Based upon the situation, needs and abilities of each family, a service plan is developed. The coordinator may assist the family with a variety of supportive services, including but not limited to: children's programs, (such as tutoring, foster grandparents and special activities); financial management; goal setting; Out of Poverty classes; household maintenance; information and referrals; advocacy and personal counseling.

ECHO tracks graduates of the Transitional Housing program for two years after they leave the program.

Of the 38 families that have completed the program, 33—or 87 percent—went into permanent housing. Twenty-four families have been out of the program for two years, and 71 percent are still in permanent housing. The table below recaps the status of the 38 families.

Rental Housing

ECHO has 22 units that are rented to low-income families. The single-family homes and two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments are located throughout Evansville. ECHO attempts to provide quality, affordable housing and makes a sizable investment in each property. Particular attention is given to energy-efficient features, such as windows, insulation and high-efficiency heating and cooling systems.

To qualify, families must meet income guidelines and have an acceptable rental or housing history. Leases are for one year, but may be renewed as long as the family remains income-eligible and abides by the terms of the lease. Applications are processed in the order received and may involve a waiting list. Rent amounts vary, but currently range from $314 to $445 per month depending on room size.

Lease-to-Purchase Housing

The Lease-to-Purchase Program is for families who are interested in purchasing their first homes. Houses are acquired by ECHO Housing Corp., rehabbed and then sold to families with a mortgage that is affordable for their income. Families lease for a period of up to two years, with a portion of the rent going into a savings account for their down payment. To qualify for this program, families must:

  • Be first-time home buyers.
  • Have adjusted household income of between 40 percent and 80 percent of the median income.
  • Have stable employment history or household income for the past 12 months.
  • Have acceptable landlord references.
  • Furnish a credit report to ECHO Housing Corp.
  • Agree to complete a pre-purchase homeownership training or counseling program.
  • Be capable of qualifying for a bank mortgage within the two-year lease period.

For more information about the programs offered through ECHO, contact Elaine Musgrave at (812) 423-8422.

Program Housing Results

Time Since Completing Program Number of Families Completing Program Permanent Other Unknown
TOTAL 38 33   87% 4   10% 1   33%
6 Months 36 31   86% 0   0% 5   14%
1 Year 36 26   79% 2   6% 5   15%
18 Months 25 19   76% 0   0% 6   24%
2 Years 24 17   71% 0   0% 7   29%

Bridges is a regular review of regional community and economic development issues. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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