Providing rent aid, a month at a time

A four-year-old initiative makes good on its pledge to help families in need

June 01, 2008|By Lisa Silverman | Lisa Silverman,Special To The Sun

A single father living in Howard County was deployed to Iraq for 14 months. After completing his service, he returned to a part-time job and studied to become a nurse. Tuition and child-care costs caused him to fall behind on his rent.

That's when a four-year-old program, One Month's Rent, stepped in and helped out.

"This initiative is a huge asset for the community," said Roy Appletree, a member of the Columbia Rotary. "It really helps ... families who are facing the reality of losing their housing."

The program received its largest single donation, $1,000, two weeks ago from the Columbia Rotary. The initiative has raised more than $60,000 and has helped 57 Howard County families.

Anne Dodd, a longtime Howard County resident and former manager of the Kings Contrivance Village Center, was inspired to develop the program after she read the book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich with her book club.

Nickel and Dimed details the trials and tribulations of the writer, who attempts to make ends meet while working minimum-wage jobs.

Coincidentally, after reading the book, Dodd heard her priest talk about how difficult it is for many Howard County residents to find and keep housing.

Dodd and several of the book club members spent the next few months developing One Month's Rent in 2004.

This initiative "pays one month's rent or a security deposit for low-wage earners in Howard County who are threatened with losing their housing due to a personal, economic, or medical crisis," according to its mission statement.

"We knew we wouldn't hurt anyone," Dodd said jokingly. "But at the time, we had no idea we would be able to help so many people."

The board works with the Columbia Action Council to find families in need.

Larry Hunt, director of planning and program development for the council, notifies the board members when he comes in contact with a family that needs assistance. The board members then decide if the family meets the group's criteria of needing assistance on a temporary basis and having a household member employed.

"It's a very unique partnership," Hunt said. "The families are absolutely appreciative of the assistance they receive, especially since they might not always qualify for [the council's] services."

Board members of One Month's Rent look to their friends, family and the community for donations. A letter-writing campaign each year by board members has also produced contributions.

The board covers its own expenses so that the money donated goes directly to people in need.

They only thing the board asks in return is that families that receive assistance later help someone else with a housing need.

Board member Linda Blakeslee, a 27-year veteran teacher at Centennial High School, also writes a newsletter so that contributors can learn about the families who have been helped.

"In the beginning, I thought we would only help one or two families," Blakeslee said. "It's really great to know that we've kept many families from facing eviction."

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