WASHINGTON – Sandra Richardson was recently able to approve a family for the Section 8 housing voucher program — the first time in months she has been able to take a name off the Westminster Housing Office’s waiting list of 872 families.
And she fears it may be the last for a long time.
Like other housing officials around the state, Richardson, who supervises the Westminster office, said waiting lists are getting longer, despite an increase in federal funding this year for the voucher program.
“We run on a shoestring now. . . . I don’t know what we are going to do with them,” Richardson said of people who need vouchers.
But federal officials challenge claims that there is not enough money for the Section 8 program, which provides vouchers that elderly, disabled or poor renters can use to subsidize their monthly rent payments.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development said that funding for Section 8 nationwide grew from $14.5 billion in fiscal 2004 to $14.8 billion in fiscal 2005. HUD spokeswoman Donna White said that Section 8 funding has risen a total of 30 percent since 2001.
“It is a good program, but there are some fundamental problems that beg for reform,” White said.
White said that instead of mirroring housing prices in a given market, Section 8 vouchers sometimes end up “leading the market” and program costs keep spiraling higher. She said HUD wants to work with local housing authorities to help manage the rent prices Section 8 voucher tenants pay.
Local officials see the program in an entirely different light.
Despite the funding increase, they say demand for the vouchers is rising faster than they can accommodate it, and rents are rising faster as well. The National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials has estimated that 21 of the 27 housing authorities in Maryland will experience Section 8 shortfalls this year.
Recipients of Section 8 vouchers are not supposed to pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent, with the vouchers making up the difference. But with rents rising faster than program funding, local officials worry that renters may be forced to pick up a larger share of the rent.
“As rents go up, the families have to pay a higher portion,” said Larry Loyd, the executive director the Housing Commission in Anne Arundel County.
Officials at several housing agencies in the state, from rural to urban, said they also worry that applicants may languish on waiting lists for years.
“We feel that it is going to be very difficult to serve new families,” particularly working poor families, said Maureen Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Social Services. She said there are currently about 10,000 applicants on the county’s Section 8 waiting list, and the wait can last up to five years.
Besides there not being enough money for vouchers, Richardson complained that the program also did not have enough money for the housing authorities that administer the vouchers. Richardson said she works more than 40 hours a week and does most of the work in the office.
It all adds up to tough times for the voucher program and the people who run it, she said.
“Little guys like us, it is going to hit us hard, if not eliminate us,” Richardson said.
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