County Housing Authority may seek Section 8 applicants for rent assistance

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com
A notice at the Luzerne County Housing Authority office on First Avenue in Kingston informs visitors that applications for Section 8 rental assistance vouchers are not being accepted at this time. But that could change for a short period next month. - Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

A rare and brief opportunity to apply for scarce Section 8 rental assistance vouchers may be offered by the Luzerne County Housing Authority next month.

More than 700 people submitted requests the last time new applications were accepted for only two days in July 2016, said authority Executive Director David Fagula.

Approximately 153 applicants from 2016 are still on a waiting list for vouchers, and new applicants won’t be considered until the current list is closed out, which should take months, Fagula said.

However, Fagula wants to start preparing the next roster of prospective program participants because some of the 153 may be no longer be interested or accessible.

“When the lists get so dated and people have to wait so long, some drop off,” Fagula said.

The next application period may be limited to one day due to the overwhelming response last time, he said. The date and other specifics have not been set, but that information will be publicly advertised and forwarded to human service agencies that typically alert clients.

In general, program participants receive vouchers for their landlords covering 70 percent of rent and utilities, while tenants pay the remaining 30 percent, Fagula said. The federal government sets limits on acceptable fair market rent ranges.

Applicant income eligibility limits currently range from $20,850 for a single person to $39,300 for a family of eight, an authority representative said.

It’s unlikely the supply of vouchers will ever keep pace with demand, Fagula noted.

The authority is federally authorized to fill 1,115 slots, but the $6 million it receives through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can cover only about 1,000.

“We can’t fund all of our units because we don’t receive enough funding,” he said.

The funding shortfall has been an issue for about a dozen years, he said.

The authority had to reduce the number of employees overseeing Section 8 from seven to four because the additional $450,000 to administer the program wasn’t covering expenses. This work includes income verification, federal reports and inspections of the privately owned rental units.

The authority serves all county municipalities except for the four cities — Wilkes-Barre, Pittston, Hazleton and Nanticoke — which operate their own housing authorities.

Wilkes-Barre demand

The Wilkes-Barre Housing Authority is in a similar situation with far more Section 8 applicants than available slots, said Judy Kosloski, executive director.

The city authority received 675 applications during the last single-day enrollment in June, Kosloski said.

None of the newer applicants have received vouchers because 75 more are on a prior waiting list, which means the total seeking assistance is now 750, she said.

“It will be years before we open it up again,” Kosloski predicted.

Her authority receives enough federal funding to provide 650 vouchers, including 111 reserved for veterans, even though it is technically approved for up to 675.

The Hazleton Housing Authority’s Section 8 program also is closed to new applicants, its website states.

“There is an undeniable need for low-income housing assistance within the jurisdiction of the HHA, as evidenced by the very large waiting list for the Section 8 programs,” it says.

Kosloski believes economic pressures have prompted more to seek the rental assistance.

The fair market rent set by HUD for a three-bedroom rental in Wilkes-Barre, utilities included, is $1,083, she said.

“Most units in Wilkes-Barre have higher rent than that,” she noted.

Fagula concurred, estimating only one in five eligible county residents are receiving the vouchers.

“Rents continue to rise, and more people are paying more than half of their gross monthly income on rent,” he said.

A notice at the Luzerne County Housing Authority office on First Avenue in Kingston informs visitors that applications for Section 8 rental assistance vouchers are not being accepted at this time. But that could change for a short period next month.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/web1_TTL030818housing-1.jpgA notice at the Luzerne County Housing Authority office on First Avenue in Kingston informs visitors that applications for Section 8 rental assistance vouchers are not being accepted at this time. But that could change for a short period next month. Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

jandes@timesleader.com

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.