2,000 families on waiting list for housing aid
A waiting list for rental assistance issued through a voucher program with the Grand Junction Housing Authority will close Dec. 1 as the agency struggles to maintain services under federal budget cuts.
A waiting list for affordable housing already is full, with about 2,000 local families.
The wait time for a voucher, what’s commonly called Section 8 housing, is about four years.
“We’re getting hammered,” said Lori Rosendahl, chief operating officer of the Housing Authority. “The problem with housing is we’ve taken huge hits. There’s nothing left to cut.”
The Housing Authority has laid off a staff member, reduced its hours to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and cut services to clients.
No further staff layoffs are expected at this time, Rosendahl said.
Last year’s budget took a hit, and an additional 5 percent cut may come in January, Rosendahl said.
The Housing Authority worked diligently to get 165 housing vouchers for military veterans, helping to house homeless veterans. However, federal sequestration cuts to the housing program mean that veterans who receive vouchers may be hard-pressed to find housing.
Rental allocations have been reduced to $575 a month, including utilities.
“That is really tough to find in this community,” Rosendahl said.
The Housing Authority has had to stretch allocated dollars in other ways. Previously, families with two teenage children could qualify for housing where each would have their own room. The Housing Authority has had to resort to a “two-heartbeat” per room policy to accommodate more families.
The scenario sometimes has a mother or father opting to sleep in a living room in order for children to have more space, Rosendahl said.
“Now they have to figure out how to make it work,” she said. “We’ve had to make some choices to, frankly, share the pain.”
The Housing Authority serves 1,700 families and 1,070 of those families receive housing vouchers.
Another 5 percent cut in January would make for a total of a 36 percent cut in the administration of programs, Rosendahl said.
The government shutdown also kept agency officials on pins and needles.
With the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development closed for more than two weeks, the Housing Authority was unsure whether it would be able to make its monthly payments of about $500,000 to local, private landlords.
The payments offer rental assistance for low-income individuals. If the Housing Authority could not make the payments, local landlords risked not being able to pay their mortgages.
“If we couldn’t pay, that would haven been devastating,” Rosendahl said.