Parkersburg family completes program, goes off rental assistance

Homecrest Manor resident Ami Bentz, right, talks about the Family Self-Sufficiency Program she and her husband, David, recently completed Friday at the Parkersburg Housing Authority offices as FSS coordinator Kyle Mann listens. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — Nearly six years ago, Ami and David Bentz and their two children moved into the Homecrest Manor public housing complex, paying a subsidized rent on their incomes from working at a fast food restaurant.

Today, although their family has grown with the addition of a niece and nephew, the Bentzes are paying a flat rent with no assistance, David is working in a home health job he loves, Ami is working and taking certified nursing assistant classes, and they’re looking at purchasing their own home.

The Bentzes are the latest graduates of the Parkersburg Housing Authority’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program, which asks residents to set goals and connects them with support and assistance to meet those objectives.

“A while back, I didn’t feel like I would (ever) be close to getting a house,” Ami Bentz said. “It makes you feel good about yourself.”

The housing authority is a quasi-governmental agency funded and regulated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Bentzes were among the first families to join the Family Self-Sufficiency Program when it returned from a hiatus in 2013.

They wrote out initial goals with Amy Hill, now assistive housing programs manager with the authority, that included obtaining employment or better employment, saving money, purchasing a new vehicle and becoming homeowners.

Ami Bentz said because of the couple’s work schedules they were unable to participate in the classes associated with the program. But they met regularly with first Hill, then current FSS coordinator Kyle Mann, answering questions about their progress toward their goals and receiving individual counseling.

“The Family Self-Sufficiency Program is designed … to help families and individuals become more self-sufficient, with the goal of eventually not having to be on the rental assistance program,” Mann said.

Although they did not utilize all of the services, Ami Bentz said having someone to hold her and her husband accountable for working toward their goals was a great help.

“You’ve got people behind you,” she said. “I’ve made several goals (in the past) and brushed them off. But I actually wrote it down on paper and gave it to someone.”

Mann said all the assistance the authority can offer doesn’t do much good without participants willing “to work and reach those goals.

“It takes a great deal of motivation on their part,” he said. “Ami and David were fine examples.”

There are 18 families participating in the program now, with seven more slots open to residents of Homecrest Manor.

Now the Bentzes are ready to move into the authority’s Section 5H Home Ownership Program.

“We purchase homes, we do the rehabilitation on them, then we lease them to families,” said D.J. Haynes, executive director of the authority.

They assist the family with credit reports and budgets to ensure they will be able to enter into a conventional mortgage after the two-year lease period, she said.

There’s no requirement to move out of Homecrest once they complete the program, but Ami Bentz is ready to take the next step.

“Within six months to a year, I’m hoping to — no offense to you guys — be in a house,” she said, smiling at Hill, Haynes and Mann. “Cause my kids want a house. They want a hardcore house. They want dogs.”

Haynes and company assured her there was no offense taken.

“That’s what we want,” Haynes said. “We want people to succeed.”