The following appeared in The Journal on April 27, 2016.
10 graduate from renters program
By John McVey (firstname.lastname@example.org), Journal News
MARTINSBURG – Lifelong friends Rob Myers and Vicki Barthlow have already put into practice what they learned in the Successful Renters Program.
“We learned about leases,” Myers said. “What to look for, good and bad leases. And court proceedings if the landlord takes you to court or if you have to take them to court.”
“We learned how to read a lease, the dos and don’ts,” Barthlow said.
They were two of the 10 graduates from the latest Successful Renters Program that concluded Tuesday evening at Destiny Baptist Church.
The program is sponsored by the Housing Work Group, which is part of the Health and Human Services Collaborative of the Family Resource Network of the Eastern Panhandle Inc.
Myers and Barthlow, both of Martinsburg, have been friends since childhood and decided they could help each other by working together and by attending the SRP sessions.
“This was a very good group, but we’ve never had a bad group – they’ve all been interested and engaged,” Kathy Campbell, Catholic Charities West Virginia Eastern Region’s Family Resource Center coordinator, said. “This was our sixth program and the first time all the the participants graduated.”
Nan Stevens of the Partnership for Affordable Housing pointed out that participation in the program is voluntary. It is open to the public.
“We’ve had a lot of success,” she said. “We’ve had women who have gotten apartments, jobs, gone back to school.”
Financial education is needed, Jennie Shriner, a certified housing counselor with Telamon, said.
“We’re teaching the community to empower themselves through budget and credit counseling,” she said.
The SRP consists of three sessions that meet once a week for three weeks. Participants learn how to read a lease; tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities; how to lodge a complaint; budgeting and understanding credit; how to get a security deposit back; and preventing eviction.
There is no cost to participate, but registration is required. Materials are supplied. Upon completing the three sessions, graduates receive a certification of completion and a gift.
According to information compiled by the Housing Work Group, 51 percent of renters in Berkeley County pay more than 35 percent of their income for housing; 41 percent in Jefferson County; and 49 percent in Morgan County.
The standard is 30 percent of one’s income should go to housing and utilities.
In Berkeley County, a renter would have to make $15.12 an hour and work 40 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental unit; $15.75 in Morgan County; and $16.42 in Jefferson County.
There are several reasons for evictions, but the main reason is for not paying the rent. Many tenants are working part time and earning minimum wage without benefits, which makes it difficult to afford housing.
The growing illicit drug problem in the Eastern Panhandle also adds to the high eviction rate.
In an effort to help people be good tenants and avoid eviction, Catholic Charities, Community Networks, Legal Aid of West Virginia’s Martinsburg office, Telamon, the Phenix Group LLC, which is a professional property management company in Martinsburg, the West Virginia Housing Development Fund and the Partnership for Affordable Housing, came together to offer the Eastern Panhandle Successful Renters Program.
The next SRP will be from noon to 2 p.m., May 11, 18, and 25, which are Wednesdays, at Jefferson County Community Ministries at 238 W. Washington St., Charles Town.
Sessions are scheduled in Morgan County in June, September and December. More sessions are scheduled in Jefferson County in August and November, and in Berkeley County in July and October.
For more information or to register, call Catholic Charities at 304-267-8837.
Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or twitter.com/jmcveyJN.
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