CHESTER COUNTY, Pa. - The Housing Authority of Chester County is making history. They are one of nine across the county to receive millions of dollars in federal funding for a new program. It's all to make it easier for families with a housing voucher to live in an area with more opportunity.
Antonia Cornog says it would be hard to picture her life if not for the Housing Authority of Chester County finding her a home. She worked 12-hour shifts as a waitress before a car accident that left her physically unable to do her job.
"Unfortunately, that put me on the put me on the path of being homeless," she said. "I just remember oh my god please help me and from there my life totally changed."
Nova Adams, Director of Housing Agency Services, says the COVID-19 pandemic has made sustaining housing especially hard for people, even in the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania with a booming real estate market.
"You have an income, a steady salary today, you don't have anything the next day," he said.
The Housing Authority of Chester County (HACC) is one of nine across the country to receive millions in federal funding for a few program over the next seven years, alongside major cities like New York. This helps in assisting families, like Cornogs, in the near future.
This initiative, called the Housing Choice Mobility Demonstration Program, alongside the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is being used to study if changing children’s zip codes can provide a better life for them. The Chester Housing Authority in Delaware County is also a part of the program.
"This grant represents a real chance for 56 families to find improved community amenities," said CHA Executive Director Steve Fischer. "We feel very fortunate in that our application was one of only nine approved nationwide. I want to thank the Chester County Housing Authority for working with us on this regional grant."
Currently, in Chester County, almost 50 percent of housing vouchers are in Coatesville, a city that makes up only 2.6 percent of the county’s population.
Families using vouchers have the choice to live anywhere, but a number of barriers often prevent that including security deposits and application fees, which tend to be more costly in high-income areas.
One of their biggest challenges is landlords unwilling to rent to voucher recipients. With the grant, the housing authority can use the federal funds to cover some costs and give landlords incentives, like a bonus.
"We can pay for the security deposit we can pay for moving," said Dale Gravett, the Executive Director of Housing Authority of Chester County. "We can compete evenly with the person with checkbook in their pocket."
Cornog says she hopes the new program could relocate her family to walking distance of public transportation and near an elementary school where her granddaughter could thrive. Before she got into a home in Coatesville, she called landlords outside a West Chester Wawa for nearly six months.
"That was the first thing that they said: no, we don't take vouchers," she said. "A lot of people look at us the wrong way when they don't even know the real story."
The Housing Authority expects to start that process in January 2022.