"Housing is one of the best kept secrets in town."
That's the feeling of Nevada Housing Authority Executive Director Carol Branham.
The Housing Authority was organized in 1969 to house and provide rental assistance and to be "good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
"We serve people with all abilities."
The Authority has 200 public housing rental units of which there are 136 one bedroom (600 square feet), 36 two bedroom (800 square feet), 20 three bedroom (950 square feet) and 8 four bedroom (1150 square feet). Eleven of those are being upgraded for ADA accessibility based on the ADA compliance guidelines.
"Public housing is not an entitlement but a privilege," said Branham.
Interested renters must qualify. There is no funding for emergency or transitional living at Nevada Housing. All applicants must be screened for suitability.
"We're one of the first stops for someone to get back to being self-sufficient."
The Authority does landlord and criminal background checks and applicants are screened.
The Housing Authority, itself a municipal corporation, complies with federal regulations and Missouri state statutes.
There is a board of five commissioners who serve four-year terms. The board hires the director.
The director oversees the operation and the compliance. The board of volunteers sets policies and procedures, approves the annual budget and any capital improvement projects.
"It's hard work," noted Branham, and the training and certification process is stringent and constant.
Branham also serves on the state executive board, which deals with legislation at a national level.
"I was hired to bring cohesiveness and enforce our lease. That can be difficult for people to follow the guidelines. We are very compassionate but we have to stay removed and not get too involved. We do everything for our people, from shoveling snow, to changing the light bulb.
"This is not assisted living or personal care."
There is rental assistance available through Housing and Urban Development, but there is a ceiling. A utility allowance approved by the board of commissioners is provided to those tenants that qualify and is based on bedroom size.
"We can do over income just to get our occupancy and rentals up when we have vacancies.
"One of our biggest challenges that we see is for people who move here from their family home is scaling down. It can be tough to decide what to keep and what to give away.
"Once they get here, we hope that they stay with us."
The Authority works closely with other city and civic entities.
"That's the beauty of a small community, to have the partnerships with police, the faith community, Cottey College, Nevada R-5, social services, etc. that we do."
"We educate tenants when there are public hearings on things like utility increases or other matters that may directly impact them as a resident."
NHA works with Cottey College on an after-school program through the child psychology class. There is a women's study class that has group activities.
"We match our residents with the students."
There is also a social justice class at Cottey that works with tenants.
The staff also collaborates with Workforce Development and provides a training and job site.
The Authority contracts with the city to pay for extra policing, employing an off duty officer who must be approved by the police chief. There is a bike patrol and a walking patrol.
"There is a lot of resident contact. It's a great program," noted Branham.
The officers can reside in the Authority housing but must be approved by the NHA board and then the HUD Field Office in Kansas City.
Currently, an officer lives in the NHA Chapman Estates neighborhood and also at the NHA Fairgrounds complex.
Residents value the presence of the officers, and engage in a talkative, approachable, comfortable, program.
This has led to a reduction in calls for police and ambulance services, said Branham.
"We're not your typical public housing stereotype," she concluded. "We have different challenges but face the same concerns. We try to ask questions, provide community resource information and not assume, so that people will communicate with us.
"We take a vested interest in our tenants and treat everyone with a positive regard.
"We are public service employees, not just rental assistance. We want to empower and inspire our tenants. We want to keep our residents engaged. We always have something going on."
The Authority publishes a monthly newsletter and operates a resident store, where there are housing bucks for those who pay their rent on time, volunteer and are involved in the programs.
"Folks here take ownership because they've earned it," she said. "Other housing authorities copy that."