Few respond to Bradenton Housing Authority survey for help to get off public assistance

BRADENTON -- Out of a couple hundred surveys sent to Bradenton Housing Authority residents in May to determine what kind of programming they would need to get off public assistance, only about 30 percent responded and few expressed interest in life-enhancing training.

Of roughly 60 public housing residents who responded, eight said they had no interest in any training. Five expressed interest in pursuing their GED, and only two said they are interested in job-skill training. Six residents said they are interested in the employment training.

BHA Executive Director Ellis Mitchell Jr. wants to invest in programs with agencies such as Suncoast Community Capital, which offers GED assistance and personal finance training, as well as CareerEdge, which offers job-skill training and other programs down to the basics of how to interview for a job.

Mitchell's goal is to help BHA residents become independent from public assistance and, at the same time, make room for a waiting list that exceeds 300 applications. The survey was limited to the agency's Sugg development, an area of BHA housing behind its offices at 2002 Ninth Ave. E. He said public housing is a temporary solution to a longer-term problem. It is not meant to be permanent.

"A lot of housing authorities think they are in the brick-and-mortar business, but we are in the business of helping families move forward," said Mitchell, who created the survey to determine what residents need to begin improving their lives. He wants to invest about $20,000 a year into programming. Funding would accommodate up to 40 people depending on the level of training needed.

BHA Chairman Napoleon Mills said the survey results were shocking.

"I'm stunned at the number of people not interested," he said. "These are people that should be interested in learning how to manage their money."

Mitchell, who has experience with the Department of Housing and Urban Development programs, was not as surprised.

"Families in affordable housing aren't motivated unless you motivate them in some way," he said. "Otherwise, they are happy and content to stay in their situation. You can't help everybody."

You can help those who want it, he said. While survey numbers were disappointing, he considered it a bit of a reprieve given the limited funding.

"Obviously, I would like to see the interest in job skills up from two because the more income they have, the less cost it is for us," he said.

BHA residents are charged on a sliding scale according to income. Minimum rent has been $50, but Mitchell is proposing an increase to $100. The more income a family reports, the higher percentage of rent they pay, thus increasing the amount of tax dollars they need for housing.

Mitchell said the number of residents who responded is a good starting point to begin the programs, but BHA Commissioner Rigo Rivera also expressed surprise at the results.

"If I'm living in public housing and looking at all these options, I'm going to be interested in something," he said.

Rivera suggested the survey didn't get to all residents, but Mitchell said they were mailed or hand delivered to every home.

"Then the survey should be mandatory when residents go for their annual recertification," said Rivera. "There should be questions asked of them like, 'What's your plan? What are you going to do? What do you need help with?' As these programs become more available, we need to ask the residents: 'Are you ready?'"

Mitchell said he will double his community outreach efforts to get a better feel for survey accuracy and better educate the residents on what the BHA wants to do for them.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.