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Closing Section 8 list, Iowa City joins statewide trend

BY BONNIE ERLBACHER | MARCH 08, 2010 7:30 AM

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Iowa City is joining several other cities statewide in putting a hold on Section 8 housing.

The local Housing Authority is no longer accepting applications for the low-income housing program because of an extensively long waiting list of around 2,400 families, some who have been waiting for two to five years, said Steven Rackis, the city’s Housing Authority administrator .

Both Davenport’s and Waterloo’s housing authorities have closed their waiting list for Section 8 housing because of a rising number of applicants.

Cedar Rapids has seen an increase as well, said Scott Seibert, the director of the Cedar Rapids Housing Authority.

That agency was assisting 1,229 families as of the end of January, and it has approximately 2,400 applicants on the waiting list. Seibert said the rise in the applications for assistance came after the 2008 flood hit and continued to rise afterward, putting displaced families at the top of their list.

“Aside from Cedar Rapids’ flood, I think more people are applying for housing assistance from living in a metro areas, where it’s difficult to find affordable housing that’s decent,” he said.

Iowa City’s Housing Authority supports 1,214 families with a budget of $5.7 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

While city officials are unsure of when they will accept applications for the program again, Rackis said, the change is a positive one.

“In a sense, it gives families false hope in receiving assistance soon which they might not get, and we don’t want to do that,” he said.

The increased number of applicants could stem from the misperception that Iowa City’s Housing Authority is the only one around, Rackis said.

There are 71 housing authorities across Iowa, 45 of which support Section 8 housing.

Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher and public housing programs are funded by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, which provides rental assistance to low-income families or individuals who rent from private landlords. The Housing Authority directly pays landlords the federal allowance for the housing expense.

Des Moines has the largest housing authority in the state, serving approximately 3,000 families throughout Polk County. Some of its preferences are determined by the family composition, arrest history, past participation in federal subsidy programs, and income guidelines set by the federal department.

Iowa City Housing Authority officials prioritizes people residing in Johnson County with elderly, disabled, and children under the age of 18 at the top of the list. After these cases are chosen, the rest of the applications are selected by date and time.

Iowa City City Councilor Mike Wright said he wasn’t surprised to hear the waiting list for Section 8 assistance closed, and he doesn’t see a major problem.

“Having a waiting list that is too hard to get on is ineffective,” he said. “The only thing that has changed is the expectations of the people wanting to get on the list.”


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