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MHA offers assistance through Section 8, FSS programs

BY Samantha Oyler - soyler@chronicle-tribune.com

A number of Marion citizens lined up last week to get a spot on the Marion Housing Authority's Section 8 waiting list.

A Facebook post from the organization stated it would accept the first 250 applicants or take applicants up until 5 p.m. that day.

According to Marion Housing Authority (MHA) Assistant Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer Leah Poland, they’d taken 239 applications by the end of the day.

Poland said there are 471 vouchers available, 50 of which are reserved for veterans through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program.

Of those 471 vouchers, 367 are currently being utilized, according to Poland.

According to the Section 8 Housing website, the program was originally part of the Housing Act of 1937. It’s meant to provide housing assistance to low-income families.

Today, more than 2 million families participate in the program across the country, with most of them earning less than $20,000 a year, according to the website.

Poland said the program can help with rent or assist with utility payments.

But despite Grant County’s poverty rate, which is estimated at around 18 percent by the US Census Bureau, Poland said one troubling factor is finding private landlords who will accept the vouchers.

While recipients are able to live in subsidized housing, the voucher program allows them the freedom to choose where they’d like to live.

“They try not to disrupt their lives,” Poland said.

People attempt to find homes near the areas that they live and work, near where their children go to school. That way they can continue their lives the way they know best.

If they are able to find a landlord who is willing to accept the voucher, there is also the obstacle of finding a proper unit, Poland said.

Poland explained that it can be very difficult to find the right amount of rooms for a given recipient, especially for families.

She said a large majority of applicants are families.

“That’s where the greatest need is,” MHA CEO Steven Sapp said.

Poland said MHA tries to open the Section 8 waiting list at least once a year, depending on the available funding, choosing to keep only a small number of applicants on the list at any given time.

She said that MHA tries to give as many vouchers as possible, but they sometimes have to “slow down” if they realize their funding is running low.

Sapp said if the waiting list was left open, they would likely have thousands of applicants.

Both Poland and Sapp said it can take a while to go through all the applicants on the waiting list, with most applicants usually waiting about 10 months to be selected.

Although the US Census Bureau estimates the population of Grant County has declined about 5 percent from 2010-2018, Sapp said MHA hasn’t noticed a decline in the number of applicants.

“We really haven’t noticed a difference because the need is so great,” he said.

Poland attributed the continuous need for housing assistance on high-paying jobs leaving the area.

While MHA tries to help as many people as it can, Poland stressed that if they had to turn anyone away, it was due to guidelines they have to follow.

“People sometimes think we’re picking on them, but we’re not. We have guidelines,” she said.

For those who do qualify, Sapp said he’s seen how assistance can impact them.

Along with Section 8, MHA has the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, which helps residents gain independence over time, assisting them to overcome obstacles in education, transportation, unemployment and more.

Though these programs are meant to help, Sapp said there is a stigma about people who utilize them.

“Some people think (people that need assistance) are lesser of a person and that’s just not fair,” he said. “There is a thing of pride. … People see it as a bad thing, but the program was meant to help people get back on their feet.”