Spring Real Estate 2002

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 13, 2002
One step from homeless
The Housing Industry Foundation offers grants to keep people in their homes

by Monica K. Wernio

Sudden loss of a job, an accident or serious illness can make coming up with your rent nearly impossible. The Housing Industry Foundation (HIF) offers one-time grants to make sure people don't slip into homelessness.

Established in 1989 with members from the real estate and building industries, HIF is a nonprofit agency that assists low-income individuals and families, predominantly in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, to remain in affordable and stable housing. It uses money raised from fund raising and donated by sponsors including Suite America, Greater Bancorp, Irvine Apartment Communities, First American Title Company and First Guaranty Exchange.

"There are always people that are living on the edge of homelessness," said Debbie Wade, HIF executive director, and Palo Alto is no exception.

HIF does not locate affordable housing for individuals, but instead assists them in maintaining the housing they already have. There is no central organization that finds affordable housing.

"That's the problem," said Wade. "It's difficult to find what's affordable."

Every year the HIF gives out roughly 250 emergency housing grants each totaling approximately $700. Last year the foundation gave more than $200,000 in housing grants. The grants are generally used to cover security deposits, rent or utilities.

HIF works in conjunction with 20 local non-profit agencies throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. In Palo Alto, HIF works directly with the Red Cross and in East Palo Alto, the Family Support Center. An individual would fill out an application at the Red Cross, for example, and then specially trained caseworkers determine whether an individual or family is eligible for a housing grant. The application is then sent over to HIF, where the final decision is made. If the applicant is approved a check is cut the same day and sent to the creditors on behalf of the applicant.

Housing grants are given to those who have had a temporary loss of income due to situations beyond their control. Traditionally, illness or injury were the causes of a lowered income, but now Wade sees a lot of people becoming eligible due to unemployment. Others may have found jobs but the pay is not enough to cover expenses.

Wade said that the HIF is not a solution, but a form of relief to carry them over to the next month. Grants are distributed with the expectation that applicants will be able to meet their obligations in the future.

In addition to providing assistance, the HIF takes a hands-on approach providing funding and volunteers to aid in special housing and renovation projects. With $96,000 and many volunteers, the HIF was able to complete eight shelter and apartment remodeling projects last year.

The foundation also acts as the lead agency to respond to housing needs in the event of a disaster. Realtors and members donated $10,000 at the recent holiday fundraiser to help victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy.