Denise Dunn learned of the power grants can have on an organization early on in her tenure as director of Housing Services of Eaton County (HSEC).
Working in an office on Lawrence Avenue, Dunn recalls standing in line at the printer, floppy disc in hand, waiting to get access. This was a common occurrence any time anyone needed to print something out. Frustrated with the inefficiency, Dunn wrote a grant to the RE Olds Foundation, which awarded HSEC a grant large enough to set up an entire computer network for her and her staff.
“It completely revolutionized us,” Dunn said. “Instead of wasting time at the printer, we could actually work on helping people.”
The organization has come a long way since its humble beginnings. HSEC was incorporated in 1997 and asked to operate with a $10,000 budget. In May, Dunn and her staff announced a name change that signifies just how far the organization has come in 17 years.
Housing Services Mid Michigan (HSMM), as the organization is now officially known, has increased its reach beyond Eaton County borders, operating with a budget of approximately $1.8 million. Dunn said there was an apparent need to increase the organization’s territory in line with where it received some of its funding and where it had started providing services.
“We now have the capacity to serve outside of Eaton County borders and obtain grants from just outside Eaton County,” Dunn said. “We have shown the capacity to handle certain things and if we don’t have a program in place at the moment, we can create it.”
HSMM, which will continue to provide a majority of its programs to Eaton County residents, has satellite offices in Jackson, Hastings and St. Johns.
“So many things are going regional now,” Dunn said, referencing Governor Rick Snyder’s regional prosperity initiative. “It increases capacity and cost effectiveness. We had to get on board with that.”
Dunn said HSMM, which is funded primarily with grants and by bidding on contracts, serves thousands each year with a wide-range of housing issues. HSMM also receives funding from the United Way as an Eaton County United Way partner.
The organization landed 75 vouchers through the federal Section 8 voucher program in 2000 and still holds those today, helping 75 low-income families with $40,000 in rental subsidies each month. Housing Services added a down payment assistance program in the mid-2000s and increased its homebuyer educational outreach. In 2005 it started a transitional housing program for people coming out of prison. Last year it added Supportive Services for Veteran Families funds, which assist veterans in keeping or securing housing. HSMM is also very active currently in foreclosure prevention services and partnered with the Eaton County Treasurer’s office to save 16 of 41 homes from going into tax foreclosure in Eaton County.
Dunn said the organizations regional focus is a big step toward securing the future of the agency.