For the first time in two years, the Luzerne County Housing Authority is accepting applications for Section 8 rental assistance.
Authority Executive Director David Fagula said it’s taken that long to work through a waiting list of 700 applicants who sought the rental subsidy during the last three-week enrollment period in March 2011. He expects a similar onslaught of new requests this time, which prompted him to limit new applications for a two-week period ending March 13.
“I know we’ll receive hundreds of applications in two weeks, and it’s senseless to take more when we won’t reach the people on the waiting list for years,” Fagula said.
He received 25 applications the first day they were accepted Wednesday and already had another 20 as of Thursday morning.
The authority, which serves all county municipalities except for the four cities, is federally authorized to fill 1,115 Section 8 slots, but 75 aren’t being accessed by renters because of federal funding cuts, he said. A federal budget dispute could result in further spending reductions in the rental housing program, he said.
Fagula said he doesn’t want to offer the subsidy to new tenants until he’s confident the authority can afford to keep them in the program.
Other housing authorities throughout the country have been notifying Section 8 participants their rental subsidy might be cut off because of federal budget cuts.
“We’re not sure any of these open slots can be filled. Right now we’re worried if we will have enough money to keep people who are on there now,” Fagula said, describing the fiscal situation as the “cloudiest” he’s encountered since he started working for the authority in 1976.
Fagula has cut back on administrative staff in the Section 8 program, with four employees covering the work previously handled by seven, he said.
Funding will never meet the demand for the rental assistance, he said, estimating thousands of county residents meet the income eligibility limits ranging from $20,750 for a single person to $39,100 for a family of eight.
A Section 8 participant receives vouchers to present to the landlord covering the difference between 30 percent of the tenant’s income and the fair market rent in the area.
“There’s a tremendous need out there, but not enough money,” said Fagula. ” I think we see more traffic than ever, whether it’s for public housing or rental assistance.”
New applications haven’t been halted for the authority’s 22 public housing buildings, but there’s a waiting list of about 1,550, said authority Deputy Director Rose Yarmel. Applicants choose up to five locations of interest and wait anywhere from two months to five years, depending on the location and number of bedrooms they need, Yarmel said. The authority owns nine buildings for the elderly and 13 for families.
Housing authorities in the county’s four cities — Pittston, Nanticoke, Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre — also have Section 8 waiting lists.
Hazleton’s authority has 347 approved Section 8 slots, but federal funding allows only up to 310 to participate, said authority Executive Director Dorothy George. She doesn’t expect to accept new applications for at least a year because 155 past applicants are still waiting. The authority received more than 500 applications during the last four-day enrollment in 2011, she said.
New Section 8 applications will be halted for the foreseeable future in Nanticoke because its authority’s 51 Section 8 slots are in use, with 51 applicants waiting.
Specifics on Wilkes-Barre’s Section 8 participation weren’t available Thursday, but an authority phone operator said new applications won’t be accepted for about a year because of a waiting list.
Pittston’s Housing Authority has 147 Section 8 participants and 120 waiting applicants. The authority allows people to continue applying but stresses slots might not be available for years, a representative said.