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Housing Authority sees need

Thousands apply for voucher program waiting list

On day one, more than 4,000 people signed up.

By the end of day two, officials were looking at sorting through 5,100 applications.

At the end of Friday, the same officials were expecting to have 6,000 people sending them applications.

This past week was the three-day window for the Fort Wayne Housing Authority’s open waiting list for the Housing Choice Voucher program, previously known as Section 8.

And if there’s one thing that number represents, officials say, it’s that people are still in need of housing.

“This is a reflection of the economy and the job status here in the area,” said Maynard Scales, the Fort Wayne Housing Authority executive director. “This is real need, that’s obvious to us.”

The program allows low-income participants to rent apartments where landlords accept vouchers.

Tenants pay 30 percent of their income toward rent and the federal government pays the rest.

Demand for vouchers is so high and supply so low that the housing authority rarely opens the waiting list, doing so the last time four years ago.

During that round, roughly 10,000 people applied for vouchers.

While the number of applicants went down, Scales puts the 6,000 figure in perspective.

“It would take us 20 years to satisfy all those applicants,” he said.

Still, some say such a program is not necessarily pointing out everyone who is in need of housing.

To some, participating in the program could just mean they’re looking for an upgrade.

“It’s not that you don’t necessarily have that many people not housed, it’s that this is a better place to live,” said Jonathan Ray, the president and CEO of the Fort Wayne Urban League.

In saying that, though, Ray did not say there weren’t people in the area who are in need.

The Urban League helped 250 people across the region who were facing foreclosure remain in their homes last year, Ray said.

“That’s a significant number, when you consider the impact to the community,” he said.

Justin Berger is executive director of Fort Wayne Habitat for Humanity. He said that like it or not, the recession continues to rear its head – particularly when it comes to affordable housing.

“The need is higher now than ever before,” Berger said. “A lot of people lost jobs. Some have gone from having two incomes to one. Although the economy looks like it’s doing well … there is a lifestyle modification taking place.”

It’s a painful process.

“People are trying to right-size themselves,” Berger said. “Last year, we had 600 applicants. That’s our most ever.”

In 2013, Habitat for Humanity launched its first-ever affordable housing subdivision on West Cook Road on the city’s northwest side. Fuller’s Landing, a $10 million, 120-lot addition, requires applicants make between $14,000 and $37,100 annually, based on family size.

Homeowners in the subdivision will pay a zero-interest mortgage with 20- to 30-year terms, and typical payments will be about $500 a month, including taxes and insurance. Fuller’s Landing will feature one-, 1 1/2 - and two-story home designs with a minimum of three bedrooms.

Affordable housing, however, is in no way only an urban issue, said Charyl Luth, executive director of Affordable Housing Association Indiana in Decatur.

The organization is a nonprofit that represents rural developers and property management companies specializing in affordable housing.

“Each year, there is more of a need,” said Luth, whose membership includes 16,000 apartment units.

“They need updating with new furnaces and things like that. With more baby boomers aging, some of them will need places to stay that they can afford because many of them will be on fixed incomes,” Luth said.

Ultimately, Scales said his office will probably end up helping about 300 people through the voucher program.

He also said that while his office is currently overwhelmed with voucher applications, the staff will sort through them.

If someone who applied hasn’t heard from the housing authority after July 15, they should feel free to contact the office, Scales said.

Many applications came through online applications, he said, which helped keep Fort Wayne from seeing riots like the one in Detroit, which broke out last year at a housing authority office or the one in Atlanta, where one broke out in 2010.

Still, the sheer number of applicants paints a vivid picture, according to Scales.

“This is evidence there’s a need for affordable housing,” he said.