ASSIST Agency Serves Southwest Louisiana’s Community and Affordable Housing Needs

December 13, 2019

For more than 50 years, the ASSIST Agency has been working across three southwest Louisiana parishes to meet the needs of poor and economically-disadvantaged families through a variety of innovative and compassionate programs.

ASSIST, which is based in Crowley and operates outreach offices in Jennings and Abbeville, administers community-assistance initiatives such as Toys for Tots, homeless shelters, affordable housing and food assistance for the elderly. It also helps residents file income taxes and secure the earned-income tax credit.

“Our mission is to elevate the standard of living and improve the quality of life for low-income families in southwest Louisiana,” Executive Director Sharon Clement says.

Taking Community Action

ASSIST Agency is a community action agency — a private nonprofit or public organization created to combat poverty in geographically designated areas. The organization serves Acadian, Vermilion and Jefferson Davis parishes.

There are 42 community action agencies in Louisiana and 972 nationwide. Together they make up the nation’s largest federally assisted network of organizations whose sole purpose is to eliminate the causes and conditions of poverty. “Our staff is committed to the agency’s mission and the idea of alleviating poverty one family at a time, Clement says.

It’s also heavily focused on meeting affordable-housing needs by partnering with public and private organizations, including the Louisiana Housing Corporation.

Closing the Housing Gap

“Through our community-needs assessment, we determined that a lot of people are in need of affordable housing,” Clement says. “Because of their income, they can’t handle the fair market rents of housing, and we try to help them with that.

Data from the Louisiana Housing Corporation’s Policy Map illustrates just how serious the housing gap is in these three parishes. In Vermilion Parish, 33% of renters are considered cost-burdened, which means they devote more than 35% of their household income to gross rent. The problem is even more severe in Acadia, where the share grows to 43% of renters, while 41% of Jefferson Davis renters are cost-burdened.

To meet this housing gap and serve other critical community housing needs, ASSIST runs programs including an emergency homeless shelter, a women’s shelter, and homeowner counseling and education. The group is also certified as a Comprehensive Housing Development Organization (CHDO), which allows it to develop certain types of affordable housing.

Meeting Housing Needs

Through its work as a CHDO, ASSIST developed a 36-unit rental complex in Jennings and a 40-unit complex in Welsh. It also built a scattered-site development with 110 single-family rental units in Crowley and another with 52 single-family rental units in Church Point. Each of these developments targets low- to moderate-income individuals and families.

“They provide people with a decent, safe and sanitary place to stay,” Clement says.

For its latest project, the organization renovated and transformed a school building in Abbeville into 18 two-bedroom units to house residents in a substance abuse treatment program while helping them to mainstream back into society.

The group’s affordable-housing program also connects first-time homebuyers with LHC down-payment assistance programs, as well as rental and utility bill assistance.

ASSIST is playing a vital role in helping the most vulnerable residents of Acadian, Vermilion and Jefferson Davis parishes by connecting them with valuable resources.

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