WESTMINSTER — Two Western Maryland College students will assist the city's Office of Housing and Community Development find ways to help low-income families get off federal housing assistance.
"Hopefully, by next fall, I will have the information to help me design a self-sufficiency program to help families using Section 8 (federal low-income housing supplements) get on a path to dropping public assistance," said Karen Blandford, supervisor of the Office of Housing and Community Development.
Juniors Lisa Rossignol of Westminster and Dianne Byerly of Elizabethtown, Pa., will study why Westminster residents use the Section 8 program. Both are students in Ron Tait's "Research Methods in Social Work" class.
"We will select about 70 people using Section 8 and send them a letter informing them of the project and asking them if they would be willing to be interviewed," said Rossignol. "The letters will probably go out in the next two weeks. We hope to get 30 to respond."
Byerly and Rossignol, both 20-year-old social work majors, then will arrange personal interviews.
"We haven't developed the questions yet, but they will pertain to what keeps them from becoming self-sufficient," said Byerly.
We will ask them to rate seven topics -- including child care, transportation, job training and substanceabuse -- as "affecting" or "not affecting" their self-sufficiency, she said.
Tait, a sociology professor who has taught at WMC for 24 years, sent letters to 10 county agencies asking if his class could assist for free with research projects.
"I received six letters back, and I passed them out to the kids and let them have their pick," Tait said. "This team will survey and interview to gather information.By applying the results, the agency can zero in on the most highly perceived barriers."
Last spring, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development asked public housing authorities throughout the country to identify problems that keep people from being self-sufficient, Blandford said.
"HUD came out with the initiative 'Family SelfSufficiency' in the spring of 1991, asking us to find ways to help get people off of Section 8," said Blandford. "This study will help usidentify problems, and if those problems are perceived problems or real issues."
People who receive Section 8 rent supplements have low income and are elderly, disabled or families with minor children, Blandford said.
"Most people in Westminster are families with minorchildren and meet the federal preference of paying more than half oftheir income for rent and utilities," Blandford said. "We also give preference to those who live or work in Westminster."
About 230 people in Westminster are receiving housing assistance under Section 8;another 250 are on a waiting list.
"We are not required by the government to have a program in place until the fall of 1992," Blandford said. "This study will help us to find out why people are staying dependent.
"This is a tough question to ask and a tough question toanswer, but we are fortunate to have bright, energetic students who are helping our agency by performing this needed service as a part oftheir education," she said.
"They, in turn, are receiving a real-life learning experience."
In Westminster, Operation Bootstrap, a cooperative effort of the Department of Social Services and the Job Training Partnership Act, helps 14 families receiving housing assistance become more independent through job training.