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Vouchers enable low-income home ownership
New Section 8 program makes Dixon woman first in nation
Jason B. Johnson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, April 26, 2001 (SF Chronicle)

Olivia Estrada's modest two-bedroom house in Dixon may resemble hundreds of others in Solano County, but it represents a first for poor people hoping to realize the dream of home ownership.

Estrada's home is the first in the nation to be purchased using a voucher from Section 8, a federal program that gives about 1.2 million needy families checks for as much as two-thirds of their rent.

Friends, joined by officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, cheered Estrada yesterday after she closed escrow on the 876- square-foot house in La Esperanza, a 71-unit affordable housing development.

The program could help qualified people avoid the wait for a Section 8 rental voucher, which in California can take between five and 10 years. It would also give poor people a chance at homeownership and financial stability.

"You're all welcome to come in and relax and take a tour of my home," Estrada said after thanking officials at a short ceremony outside her home, which she had previously rented with the help of rental vouchers. Estrada, 36, who was born and raised in Dixon, became permanently disabled with rheumatoid arthritis in 1984.

Dixon has a population of 15,500 and expects to experience major growth because of its location along the Interstate 80 corridor.

For six years, Estrada and others have been part of an advocacy group called the Solano County Organizing Committee, which pursues the construction of more affordable housing. She noted that poor people in the area often lived in trailers and mobile home parks.

An employment rule will require that most voucher participants earn a minimum of $10,300 annually and have taken part in some form of welfare to work program.

Under the program, about 30 percent of a working homeowners' income will go to pay the mortgage, with Section 8 covering the remainder.

Estrada's disability exempted her from that rule, but she was required to attend classes on the responsibilities of home ownership.

"This program will draw people who are upwardly mobile," said Sharron Treskunoff Bailey, a HUD official based in Sacramento. "We want good quality tenants working toward self-sufficiency."

To pay the home's $114,741 cost, Estrada obtained a $66,000 loan from the U. S. Department of Agriculture, a $40,000 HUD loan and over $10,000 in affordable housing grants from the developer.

Local housing authorities must identify lenders willing to take part in the program, a very secure investment since it's backed with federal government guarantees, said Charles Clendenin, business and cooperative director with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Section 8 home ownership program is available in Benicia and Vallejo, and the Oakland Housing Authority is looking into it. Federal officials expect more local housing authorities around the Bay Area to adopt the program in the coming months.

Clendenin and others said the program could help poor people work their way up the economic ladder and into the middle class.

"The home ownership option opens a market that really hasn't been there before," said Gideon Anders, executive director of the National Housing Law Project based in Oakland.

Estrada, the daughter of retired farm workers, smiled and said she couldn't describe how good it felt to own her own house.

"God is good," she said as she looked around her living room, which has a fireplace and is decorated with pictures of Western landscapes. "Everything's different," said Estrada. "I can say, that's my house. It's a blessing."

Copyright 2001 SF Chronicle
The original article can be found on SFGate.com here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/04/26/MN61285.DTL


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