Vickie Heller buys a house under the Stark County Housing Authority program

CANTON — Vickie Heller has lived in many places over the years — including a recent six-year stint in public housing — but she has finally found a forever home.

Not just any old house.

A house. His house. And she is proud.

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This is a 1,380 square foot bungalow on Columbus Avenue NW. One block from Westbrook Veterans Memorial Park and close enough to the Pro Football Hall of Fame that she could see the domed roof of the Hall of Fame Village’s Center for Performance from her front yard.

“I’ve kept my faith in God,” said Heller, a 58-year-old mother of four grown children who has 11 grandchildren and a great-grandchild. “I persevered, believed and conquered.”

Heller is the first Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority resident to complete the agency’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program. This catapulted her into an opportunity to move out of public housing.

Vickie Heller shows her love for elephants as they decorate her Canton home.  She is the first to graduate and buy a home under the Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority's Family Self-Sufficiency Program.

Family Self-Sufficiency Program Creates Escrow Savings

The federally funded initiative was created in 1990, by a proposal from the George HW Bush administration, but Stark had only sought the money three years ago.

“She was very focused,” said Millie Tatum, director of resident and community services for the Housing Authority.

It’s supposed to be a five-year program.

Heller finished in two.

The monthly rent for public housing or a Section 8 tenant is based on income. The less money you earn, the less rent you pay. Sometimes it’s a deterrent to finding a job or working more hours.

The Family Self-Sufficiency Program combats this.

Vickie Heller said she once enjoyed her free time on the foredeck.  She is the first to graduate and buy a home under the Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority's Family Self-Sufficiency Program.

Here’s how it works:

Those who participate in the program can find a job or add income, but continue to pay the same lower monthly rent. Although the rent technically increases, the additional amount due is placed in an escrow account.

This allows the tenant to build up a nest egg without penalty or tax.

Not all program graduates will buy a home. Some may simply find an apartment at the market price.

“But owning…yeah, that’s the pinnacle of self-sufficiency,” Tatum said.

Heller and all of the nearly 40 program participants (15 currently have escrow accounts) must also set and achieve tangible goals as their account grows. It could be paying off debt, going back to school, learning to budget, or buying a car. Each situation is unique.

This is where Sapri Sweat comes in – the annually renewable grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development pays its salary to the Housing Authority. Sweat, in turn, connects Family Self-Sufficiency Tenants to community resources to help them achieve their goals.

“There were times when I got mad at her,” Heller confessed. “But she knew what was best for me in the long run.”

From homeless to home sweet home

It was a long run for Heller, even before she entered the program. Heller said she had been in abusive relationships. In 2015, she was homeless, living with one child or another, between Georgia and Ohio. At the end of that year, she ended up at the YWCA Canton shelter.

In early 2016, she moved into the Cherrie Turner Towers.

Vickie Heller said she was happy to be out of public housing and in her forever home.  She is the first to graduate and buy a home under the Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority's Family Self-Sufficiency Program.

“I just felt like a failure inside,” she said, recalling how she lay on the floor of the complex’s nearly empty Unit 418, one of 2,500 public housing units. of Stark. “I said ‘God, I know you got something for me.'”

But Heller was disabled with a shoulder injury. She had no solid prospect of being able to afford to leave public accommodation.

“A lot of times I was depressed,” she said. “I didn’t give up, but I cried a lot.”

Until she noticed a call in a monthly Housing Authority newsletter. Heller held out his hand. She joined in 2020. She got a part-time job at Giant Eagle’s deli on the Strip.

His rise in income has led to an increase in the rent for his public housing. But all that increase has been blocked, through the program. And by the start of this year, she had accumulated $5,000.

She spent a few movers on hiring and on a car repair. The Stark County Community Building Partnership helped calculate a down payment and closing costs. And Huntington National Bank funded most of a mortgage for the $90,500 home.

Heller closed June 29. She moved on July 5.

She knows the dates by heart.

Vickie Heller is shown in front of photos of her grandchildren and a great-grandchild.  She is the first to graduate and buy a home under the Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority's Family Self-Sufficiency Program.

A family room wall is already a photographic sanctuary for all those grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She added loads of elephant trinkets, photos and accessories because they symbolize strength and she just loves them. Next up is a new kitchen floor to replace the tattered and scuffed one that screams “I’m from the 1970s”.

In the spring, she has big plans.

Flowers. Some landscaping.

“Do it really well,” she said.

Contact Tim at 330-580-8333 [email protected] On Twitter: @tbotosREP

More details

For more information about Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program, contact Coordinator Sapri Sweat at 330-454-8051, ext. 365, or [email protected]


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