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Low income housing getting harder to find
When Pami Terry discovered that she would soon need to find a place to live, she had quite a shock.
“There’s just nothing out there for someone like me,” Terry said. “I have called and called and I can’t find anything. I’m afraid that I’ll soon be living on the street.”
Terry, 43, of Bremerton, is a disabled woman with a service dog who lives on $680 a month in social security disability income. Because she is prone to seizures and has other health problems, she cannot work. She is currently living with her father who is under hospice care and isn’t expected to live long. When he’s gone, she’ll be out of a place to live.
Like many low income people in Kitsap County, Terry called the Kitsap Housing Authority and the Bremerton Housing Authority hoping to get some federally sponsored Section 8 housing. But she found more bad news. The waiting lists are closed.
“The housing we are able to make available depends on federal appropriations,” said Kurt Wiest, executive director of the Bremerton Housing Authority.
“It’s very frustrating not only to those needing housing, but to us because we want to help. And now, with sequestration, what was a bad situation is becoming an even worse situation.”
Wiest referred to the action by Congress to cut many federal programs until it can approve a balanced budget. He said his agency and other housing authorities across the country have seen automatic 5 percent cuts, meaning no more housing vouchers can be distributed, and those that are turned back in cannot be re-issued.
Under Section 8 housing, people who meet income guidelines are offered a voucher that they use to find housing on the public market. With the voucher, the individual or family pays 30 percent of their household income toward rent and utilities and the remainder is paid by the housing authority through the federal dollars it receives.
An example of the income guideline is a single person with an income of less than $15,400, or a family of four with an income of less than $21,950 can be considered for Section 8 housing.
Section 8 vouchers that are issued by the Kitsap Housing Authority operate the same way and are administered by the Bremerton Housing Authority, Wiest said.
Tony Caldwell, executive director of Housing Kitsap said they have 350 people with Section 8 vouchers, and another 136 residents in public housing.
Weist said there are currently 305 people on Bremerton Housing Authority Section 8 vouchers and “at least five times that many” who could qualify for the program if there were vouchers available.
“Every day we get calls from people wanting Section 8 vouchers,” he said. “When we tell them there are none and the waiting list is so long that it is closed, they ask ‘when will it re-open?’” he said. “We have to tell them we really don’t know.”
When the list is open, it’s done on a first-come first-serve basis down to the hour and minute that an application is received, Weist said. No preference is given to anyone, including families with children.
“It’s strictly on a first-come first-served basis,” he said.
Additionally, they have 1,695 people living in public housing, where the housing authority acts as the landlord and owns the property. That number increased by 320 units in the past year when the housing authority demolished some old 1940s public housing and developed new housing in various locations throughout Bremerton. But even with the additional housing, more is needed, Wiest said.
“We could fill more,” he said. “But there is no more.”
And vacancies there are not common. They only come about when a tenant dies, move out of the area, or get employment that provide incomes where they can afford to pay for other places to live. The housing authority is taking names for a waiting list for public housing, but it could be years before enough comes open to serve those now waiting, he said.
Wiest and others with the housing authority have taken their case for more low-income housing to the State Legislature. He has a stack of letters from people in the Kitsap County area who are in need of housing which he took to Olympia and which he will show anyone who will listen.
“I tell them ‘these are their stories,’ “ he said. “These are the people who are waiting for assistance.”
Thus far, no funding has resulted from his pleas. But he and others at the housing authority remain optimistic.
“Unlike entitlement programs, there is no entitlement for housing,” he said. “We’re deficient in the amount of housing that is needed throughout this country. But we will continue to make our case and hope that something good happens.”
Meanwhile, Terry, the disabled woman from Bremerton who was looking for a place to live has been working with Housing Solutions Center of Kitsap County, a resource group that helps people in need of housing. The group acts as a clearing house for various kinds of housing, from emergency shelters to referring to landlords willing to work with the low income.
Housing Solutions Center helps to take some of the legwork and stress out of finding housing for those with special needs and who have financial issues, Wiest said.
Terry hasn’t found a place yet, but she is hopeful that she will.