Wait list a cause for frustration

CITY HALL — City Council members on Tuesday endorsed purging unqualified applicants from the city’s lengthy wait list for low-income housing vouchers.

Currently, 5,762 applicants hold places on a waitlist for the federally sponsored program, which helps to pay the rent for qualified residents.

As the so-called Section 8 vouchers become available, they are given to applicants based on a pecking order of attributes including disabilities, age, homelessness and local residency. Those with the highest preference points are awarded the vouchers. If more than one applicant has the same score, the voucher is randomly assigned.

In the past two years, only 19 new families have received vouchers as city officials grapple with the program's rising costs and a shrinking federal budget — which has only added to frustration among those anxiously awaiting a voucher, officials said.

“There’s a lot of frustration on the waiting list, a lot of hopelessness that they’re feeling,” said Councilman Ara Najarian said at Tuesday’s Housing Authority meeting.

City officials said hiring an outside agency to do a mass updating of the list, created a decade ago, would re-assess which applicants are still qualified to receive the vouchers.

Currently, applicants’ continued eligibility is reviewed through random mailings, at the time they reach the top of the list, or when applicants notify city officials of a change in their situation.

“That’s a long time,” said City Manager Jim Starbird. “Everyone’s situation changes in a decade.”

Council members requested that city officials develop cost estimates for such an update, which Najarian said could help give residents awaiting vouchers “some hope.”

“We may in fact find our waiting list to be a lot smaller than currently indicated,” he said.

Councilman Rafi Manoukian went further, suggesting that the City Council consider freezing the wait list’s order to erase a community perception that vouchers are given out unfairly.

But Mayor Laura Friedman countered that it is important to maintain the continual ability to update the list’s order in order to ensure the neediest residents receive the vouchers.

“Our main goal is not to reduce frustration,” she said. “Our main goal is to give housing to the people who need housing the most.”

The discussion will return to the Housing Authority in coming months.

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