September 12, 2013

Spending gap puts Section 8 vouchers at risk

The Portland Housing Authority cannot promise to absorb the funding loss, as some other cities say they will do.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Donald Philippe Chamberland, 62, of Portland, talks about Section 8 housing outside his apartment at the corner of Alder and Oxford St. in Portland Tuesday, Sept 10, 2013. Chamberland uses section 8 vouchers and says he would be homeless without them.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Melanie Silver 23, of Portland talk about Section 8 housing Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

Qualified Section 8 recipients pay 30 percent of their income for rent. Their vouchers cover the rest, up to a certain cost of rent.

Because there is more demand for help than vouchers to distribute, families may wait as long as three years for vouchers. That wait is longer now because the federal spending cuts have forced agencies to put a freeze on new vouchers.

Melanie Silver, 23, just got on the waiting list. She's now living at Maine Stay, a transitional home for teenagers and young adults in Portland.

Silver, who works as a cashier at the Hannaford Supermarket in Scarborough, said she could go back to living with her mother, but having her own place means something to her: "Independence."

The housing authorities in Portland, South Portland and Westbrook combined their waiting lists in April into one list that now has 3,000 people on it, Adelson said.

Westbrook Housing hasn't issued any new vouchers since April, reducing its caseload by 19 through attrition, said Executive Director Chris LaRoche.

At the same time, he said, the agency started subsidizing rents only up to fair market value, which is $816 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. Previously, it had gone slightly beyond that.

Westbrook Housing now is administering vouchers to 786 families.

The South Portland Housing Authority has 350 voucher recipients, down from its maximum of 389, since it stopped issuing vouchers at the end of May, said Executive Director Michael Hulsey.

The Westbrook and South Portland housing authorities don't expect to issue vouchers again until the start of their fiscal year in January, or later, depending next year's funding levels.

Neither Westbrook nor South Portland expects to revoke assistance this year. However, LaRoche said, "the reality of cutting vouchers was never as real as it is now."

The Maine State Housing Authority, which administers rental assistance in areas of Maine that aren't served by any local housing authority, stopped issuing new vouchers in April, except for special cases.

Spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte said the authority has cut 143 vouchers from its program. Usually, it issues about 4,000 annually, she said.

The Lewiston Housing Authority stopped issuing vouchers a year ago and has decreased its total to 1,050, down from its maximum of 1,140, said Executive Director James Dowling.

He said Lewiston also has adopted a policy to use a lottery system if vouchers must be revoked because of funding cuts.

He doesn't foresee having to use it, but won't say it can't happen.

Dowling expects to start signing up more recipients in December and January.

The Bangor Housing Authority, which issues 440 vouchers, hasn't had to cut back, said Executive Director Michael Myatt.

While the number of people seeking housing assistance in that city has been "on the lower side," Myatt said, upcoming decisions in Washington could change the way the authority operates.

 

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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