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May 22, 2003

Grant aids blind, hearing impaired home buyers

From: Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, IA - May 22, 2003

DAN ESHELMAN , Staff Writer

Enhanced methods for providing information to prospective home buyers are now available as the result of a $1,500 grant to Family Housing Advisory Services Inc. in Council Bluffs.

The funds were awarded by the Iowa Home Ownership Education Project.

The local agency will use the money to pay for having copies of a book - used during consumer workshops - transcribed to Braille and converted to an audio format.

The grant will also meet expenses associated with having sign language interpreters at the workshops, if requested, to assist the hearing-impaired.

"We are excited to be expanding our services in Council Bluffs," said Kevin Ruegg, executive director of Family Housing. "Being able to assure equal housing opportunities for all residents is essential to our mission."

The material will be ready for use at the next workshop series set for Aug. 4, 5 and 11 at Community Hall in Council Bluffs, said instructor Neil Vacek.

He said having the book accessible in Braille and audio formats was important because "the information concerns local programs and is particularly valuable to people from this area."

The grant from the IHOEP may be renewable, he said, but, regardless, "the copies of the book that are being transcribed and formatted will always be here for use by workshop participants."

Family Housing, which helps homeless individuals, renters and others in efforts to locate affordable residences, is the only comprehensive housing counseling agency in the area certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The agency was one of eight chosen statewide to receive grants, Vacek said.

The IHOEP is an alliance of organizations committed to establishing an initiative in the state that encompasses counseling and education related to the process of buying a home.

Members of the alliance provide resources and assist Iowans in becoming successful homeowners.

Family Housing has also been involved in that effort on the local level.

Vacek said that since 1968 the agency has been assisting people in securing and maintaining satisfactory, safe and affordable housing, and in strengthening the community through education, counseling, dispute resolution and advocacy.

The agency serves more than 10,000 individuals and families in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska each year, he said.

Programs assist the homeless in finding residences, and workshops are conducted to provide details about procedures required for buying a home.

The sessions have taken place regularly in Council Bluffs since 1997.

Anyone seeking assistance through programs available from the city is required to attend the workshops as a prerequisite for aid.

The sessions are structured to teach basic financial practices and technical skills needed to buy a home and then maintain it successfully once ownership has been achieved.

Among other topics, mortgage programs and financial assistance available in the area are discussed.

Information about the workshops can be obtained by calling Vacek at 322-4436 or 934-1777.

©Daily Nonpareil 2003