For the first time in nearly three years, the North Little Rock Housing Authority will open its waiting list for Section 8 vouchers to no more than 600 applicants this week. If history is any guide, demand for those 600 slots will be high.
For a 72-hour period, beginning Tuesday at 9 a.m., the public housing agency will be accepting applications online at nlrha.housingmanager.com. Applicants without Internet access are encouraged to access free Internet at public libraries, the agency said.
Spots on the waiting list will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Officials said they expect the slots to be filled in a matter of minutes.
The North Little Rock Housing Authority opens its Section 8 list once every two to three years, a housing official said. And this week will be the first time the application process will be online-only, with no phone or in-person sign-ups taken.
The new policy stems from an episode that occurred during a previous sign-up period. On Sept. 9, 2014, the agency held a sign-up event at Verizon Arena strictly for the elderly, handicapped and disabled, who are given priority over able-bodied adults.
Some 275 people lined up in 92-degree heat for about 150 spots the agency was offering.
"We had people that were passing out, because they wouldn't let us all the way in the building," recalled the agency's Section 8 manager, Nakesha Primus. "It was hot, so it was total chaos."
When the housing agency opened up the waiting list for able-bodied applicants later that same day, the 105 remaining slots filled up within 10 minutes, Primus said.
A similar episode occurred when Pulaski County's housing-assistance program opened up 150 spots for the Section 8 waiting list last year. On that spring day in April, about 800 people showed up in what turned into an unruly spectacle of fighting and yelling.
The event was shut down by law enforcement officials an hour after its starting time, and the episode demonstrated that in central Arkansas, as in cities across the nation, demand for housing assistance is high.
The Section 8 voucher program, which gets its name from Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937, provides rental subsidies to elderly, disabled, and low-income people to help them afford safe and sanitary housing in the private market. Typically, voucher holders pay 30 percent of their households' monthly income toward rent, while federal dollars pay the rest.
North Little Rock's rental standard, or the maximum rent amount plus utilities a voucher holder can lease, is $673 for a one-bedroom unit.
According to a 2016 study released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the program spent $21 billion assisting more than 2.3 million families across the nation.
HUD provides funds to the North Little Rock Housing Authority for about 1,392 vouchers, according to figures from the agency. Applicants often are on the waiting list for up to two years before they receive vouchers.
About 4,500 vouchers are available for the four housing agencies in Pulaski County -- in North Little Rock, Little Rock, Jacksonville and the county. Across the state, 22,102 vouchers are administered by 130 housing agencies serving 46,000 Arkansans. Many of those agencies also regularly keep waiting lists closed.
Meanwhile, public-housing agencies across the nation are facing looming budget cuts in the next fiscal year. President Donald Trump called for a 13 percent decrease in HUD funding in his proposed 2018 budget released in May.
In that proposal, the president requested $19.3 billion to fund the Section 8 housing voucher program for 2.2 million families, a $310 million decrease from this year.
And HUD Secretary Ben Carson has repeatedly expressed his view since his appointment to the president's Cabinet that too much government assistance can create too much government dependence.
"I don't think we have to continue to come to the government for everything," Carson said during his Senate confirmation hearing.
"The programs that have been enacted in HUD over the years, they're good programs, but in and of themselves they're not bringing about the elevations of large numbers of people. And that's what we're really looking for," Carson said. "We don't want it to be a way of life, we want it to be a Band-Aid and a springboard to move forward."
Despite the $310 million cut in the voucher program, the president's budget proposal says the government will continue to support all Americans living in HUD-assisted households. And Carson has said that while the Section 8 program is imperfect, stable housing is "essential" to helping people transcend impoverished circumstances.
Rather, the focus of HUD's cuts will center around several community development programs, including those designed to fund community improvement projects and support distressed neighborhoods around the country.
Metro on 07/09/2017
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