This article was originally published in the Friday, Dec. 21, 2018 issue.
Next month, Valerie Cantu Bauges and her family will begin the process to look for a new home, something she never thought possible.
Five years ago, Bauges was pregnant with her oldest son and her husband was in a job earning minimum wage while they received public housing assistance with the Mission Housing Authority, she said.
They then heard about the Family Self-Sufficiency program, a program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which is designed to help people seeking assistance from housing authorities to grow their income and make them financially stable to leave their housing authority.
“I joined after hearing from my case worker that my husband and I could accumulate escrow under this program to better ourselves and get a better paying job and career,” Bauges said.
Bauges recounted this Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, during a Mission Housing Authority Board Meeting where she, and seven other participants, graduated from the program after five years.
“A year into the program my husband got a job at the Wonderful Citrus factory and I went to school where I got a certificate in medical billing and now work at a provider agency,” Bauges reflected. “We no longer require governmental assistance and are able to take care of our children.”
People taking the program attend numerous workshops to help them set and work toward goals of self-sustainability, Gloria Rodriguez, a caseworker and coordinator with the Mission Housing Authority said. To graduate, a participant must be free of welfare assistance for 12 months after learning how to tackle their financial challenges, grow their income and earn a little extra for their troubles in the form of an escrow savings account that the housing authority cashes out for them upon completion.
The money, generated by increasing their income while in the program, is given to participants within days of completion of the program and can be used for savings, retirement, continued education or buying a car or home.
The seven participants received a total of $25,486.61 in escrow, with Baugues receiving nearly $17,100.
“I plan on using this for the down payment of a new home,” Bauges said. “It’s motivation to get out there. My husband supported me so this program was an extra bonus I was surprised and blessed to know that this is out there helping people get on their feet. If this wasn’t out there I don’t know how I would’ve been able to get a home.”
The Mission Housing Authority is the only housing authority in the Valley other than the city of Pharr that participates in this program, Rodriguez said. The Mission Housing Authority graduates 10 participants every six months, she said.
“We want participants to have a sense of accomplishment where they can go out and continue to accomplish more goals and do better after the program,” Rodriguez said. “They come here without jobs and education and that changes at the end of the five years, I’m always proud of these success stories.”