Agency Is Updating Housing Aid Wait List

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The D.C. Housing Authority wants to know how many of the 57,000 families on its waiting list are still waiting.

As the agency moves to a new computer system, it is contacting low-income families to determine whether they still need housing. The list dates to at least 2000.

Karen Moone, the agency's deputy executive director, said that letters had been sent to applicants on the waiting list. But the authority believes that many are homeless, so it must find a way to make sure they can be contacted if housing becomes available.

"We want good, accurate information," Moone said. "We have people who have been on the list more than eight years. It's a very long time."

Nearly all the applicants for housing assistance, which includes public housing, the Housing Choice Voucher Program and the Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation Program, have incomes of less than $30,000 for a family of four, according to the housing authority. The median income for a family of four in the area is more than $94,000.

Although the number of public housing units in the city has diminished from 9,400 in 2001 to 8,100 today, the agency is placing more families in homes. The voucher program makes up the difference. There are now 11,200 vouchers, compared with 5,800 in 2001, according to the housing authority. The agency is assisting about 19,300 families.

"When people's names come to the top of the list, that's when we call them in," Moone said. "We want to ensure that we have accurate records and can reach people who need housing assistance when we have openings."

But reaching people doesn't necessarily lead to immediate housing. Placement can take years, said spokesman Cymando Henley, because the need outpaces a "chronic shortage" of affordable housing.

Cavelia Forbes, a single mother of three, got her call after seven years. Last week she moved into a three-level, two-bathroom home in Northeast Washington. She applied for housing when her 10-year-old was a toddler.

"I wasn't for sure how long it was going to take to get to me," Forbes, 42, said. "I didn't know it would take that long. I didn't give up."

Families are urged to fill out the applications, which have prepaid return envelopes. The forms must be returned by Feb. 11.

Homeless families and others who did not receive a letter requesting updated information can find applications and drop-off boxes at several D.C. shelters. Individuals who do not respond will be removed from the list, Moone said.

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