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Housing, Utilities, & More

Everyone needs a place to call home, and on a tight budget, housing costs can seem staggering. However, with some creativity and flexibility, you can find affordable housing and create a home of your very own.

Emergency Housing

Emergency services organizations such as the American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org), the Salvation Army (http://www.salvationarmy.org), Catholic Charities (http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org), and the United Way (http://www.unitedway.org) frequently offer emergency housing and referrals. These organizations can also assist with low-cost housing for longer terms. Victims of domestic violence can obtain help through state and local domestic violence shelters. A list of state resources is available at http://www.womenshelters.org.

If you are pregnant and are in need of housing, there are many resources available to you. Maternity homes are safe places for expectant mothers who are in need of housing for the duration of their pregnancy. Maternity homes can be found throughout the country. Visit online sites such as Lifecall.org to search for a maternity home or shelter in your state (http://www.lifecall.org/shelters.html). If you are a student at a college or university, ask your school what they can do to help you. Some colleges that have worked with FFL over the years as a part of our College Outreach Program, such as Georgetown University, offer some sort of special housing for expectant mothers if they are currently enrolled. Mira-Via, adjacent to Belmont Abbey College (inspired by our program) cares for mothers at numerous area colleges. Speak with your university’s health center officials or the school’s division of student affairs and see what they can offer you.

Affordable Housing

One of the first steps in finding affordable housing is to get real and erase those glamorous images of homes in your head. Most people do not live in spacious and expensively decorated homes. Focus instead on what you and your children truly need: a safe, affordable place to live.

Some localities offer rent subsidies for those who meet eligibility requirements. Another option is Habitat for Humanity (http://www.habitat.org), an organization that provides low-interest loans to those looking to buy or rent a home in exchange for “sweat equity” or labor on their housing projects. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) may have listings of low-income housing. Local HUD offices can be found online by choosing a state from the pull-down menu at http://www.hud.gov.

If none of these works out, it is time to get creative. Many parents consider shared households. Two, three, or four house-sharers may be able to afford a large apartment or house that none could afford alone. House-sharers can also share household expenses, childcare, and housekeeping. Of course, it is important to make sure that house-sharers are mutually compatible and flexible people. The National Shared Housing Resource Center (http://www.nationalsharedhousing.org) is a good starting point for researching shared housing options. Sharinghousing.com is another resource for finding people interested in shared housing. Coabode.com offers a “matchmaking” service for single mothers to share housing with other single mothers.

Keeping Your Utility Costs Down

Many utility companies and organizations offer financial assistance to low-income households for utilities. Some of the most effective ways to keep the utility costs down include:

  • Weatherproof your homeThis means caulking around window frames, weather-stripping doors, and using plastic insulating kits on windows where there are no storm windows.
  • Insulate your attic. This will keep heat inside during the winter and outside during the summer, reducing the costs of heating and cooling.
  • Insulate your home. If an air conditioner is too expensive, closing all doors, windows, and curtains early in the morning on hot days can keep a home cool all day. The windows should be opened at night to let the cool air in and then closed up again before it starts to get warm. A dehumidifier will increase comfort and keep mold away.
  • Monitor your thermostat. In cold weather, setting the thermostat to the low 60s will save a great deal on heating costs. A good-quality humidifier in the winter not only moistens the air, it makes the air feel warmer.
  • Don’t waste water. Keep showers short and install low-flow showerheads and aerators. Most of these are easy to install, and the savings on your water bill will pay for the cost within a few months. Run the dishwasher only when it is full, or wash your dishes by hand. Avoid excessive toilet flushing.

Go Green and Save Big

Going green and choosing energy efficient products can help you save a lot of money in the long run, but can seem daunting at first. Start off by making easy switches in your house. Compact fluorescent light
bulbs, for example, can last longer than incandescent, are more energy efficient, and can help to lower your utility bill. Making your own cleansers with household staples like vinegar and baking soda saves money, is safer for children, and reduces pollutants. Buying items used, reusing what you have, and avoiding disposables is conservation—less waste in your budget and less waste in the environment. You can also begin recycling or creating a compost pile in your backyard to help reduce the amount of waste your household produces. For more living green tips, visit Styleathome.com for a great list of 25 ways to go green at home (link provided under “resources”).  And don’t forget that you can barter for services with an expert—or call on a family member or friend.

When shopping for a new appliance, check its energy use and efficiency at http://www.energystar.gov. The site also provides a helpful buyers’ guide for choosing and purchasing long-lasting light bulbs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 5.8 percent of residential electricity goes to the clothes dryer. Air-drying laundry will have a positive impact not only on your electricity bill but on your clothing, too. Dryers are rough on clothing and lead to faded colors and worn-out clothing. For air-drying resources and hints, see www.laundrylist.org. If you are remodeling, consider water-efficient products. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers examples at www.epa.gov/watersense.

Making a House a Home

When it comes to furnishings, it is not necessary to have the best of everything and all of it right away. In fact, when children are small, it is better to have sturdier, more durable items that withstand some wear and tear. Hand-me-downs from relatives or friends can meet the need. Try http://www.craigslist.com or Facebook free/for sale/swap groups in your area for used furniture. Flea markets (check http://www.keysfleamarket.com for a listing of flea markets), auctions, and garage sales are also good sources Try used furniture stores. Some social service agencies also have used-furniture warehouses for those in need.

Canvassing the neighborhood for discarded items can also be a valuable source of furnishings. Going for a drive during the last day of any month in apartment complexes and condos where people move frequently can sometimes prove to be the sites of great furniture finds. For some amazing bargains, check the curbs of college dorms at the end of the school year.

Keep in mind that safety has no price tag. Swap and trade sites are public resources—avoid giving unnecessary personal information, and bring a friend when you are entering a stranger’s home. Ask them to leave the items on their porch for pick-up. Carefully inspect items before purchase or use, and be cautious of picking up upholstered items that may be infested with bugs.

A Place To Call Home

With a little resourcefulness and creativity, a comfortable home can be created with very little expense.

Updated by Lauren Sumners. Original article by Ruth Moynihan featured in the 2009/10 issue of
The American Feminist, “Raising Kids on a Shoestring” published by Feminists for Life of America.

Resources

American Red Cross, http://www.redcross.org
Catholic Charities, http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org
Co-Abode, http://www.coabode.com
Craigslist, http://www.craigslist.com
Energy Star, http://www.energystar.gov
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov
Flea Markets, http://www.keysfleamarket.com
Habitat for Humanity, http://www.habitat.org
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, http://www.hud.gov
Laundry Tips, http://www.laundrylist.org
Life Call, http://www.lifecall.org/shelters.html
The Salvation Army, http://www.salvationarmy.org
The National Shared Housing Resource Center, http://www.nationalsharedhousing.org
Sharing Housing, http://www.sharinghousing.com
Style At Home Living Green Tips, http://www.styleathome.com/decorating-and-design/green-living/25-easy-ways-to-live-green-at-home/a/18810
United Way, http://www.unitedway.org

What You Can Do

  • Rent out your home. If you are able to rent a room in your home- or the whole house–due to an extended vacation or sabbatical, look for low- or no-rent house sitters. Post your home’s availability online or at religious communities, colleges, and libraries.
  • Sell or donate your furniture. Post your gently used furniture for free on http://www.freecycle.org or sell on ebay.com. You can also donate to thrift or consignment stores. Any type of home furniture is beneficial- throw pillows, chairs, tables, lamps, rugs, etc.