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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Gerald Blount talks Friday about his homelessness and living in his van in the overnight parking area of the 7 Hills Homeless Center in Fayetteville. The Fayetteville Housing Authority adopted a policy to give preference to those experiencing homelessness for open spots on its voucher and public-housing waiting lists.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Housing Authority assists residents who need it the most, as opposed to a strictly first-come, first-served basis, under a new policy.

The board has approved giving preference to homeless or at-risk residents for a portion of the spots that open up for housing vouchers or public-housing units. The move will serve as another strategy to end homelessness in the region, Executive Director Angela Belford said.

The regional Continuum of Care, a coalition of service organizations and case workers, has a list of more than 500 people in need of housing from Washington, Benton, Carroll and Madison counties. The new policy will reserve 10% of the housing vouchers and public-housing units becoming available at the Housing Authority for the people at the top of that list, Belford said. Belford also serves as chairwoman of the continuum's board.

"By us not having to go through our list and find somebody who's homeless, or certify somebody as homeless, we're doing this the way HUD prefers for us to do," she said. "People who are case managers on the front lines, who know the clients, are the ones who can understand who is going to get housing assistance next."

The authority provides rental assistance for low-income residents to live at private properties under the housing choice voucher program, commonly known as Section 8. The program is paid for through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

There are 715 people on the wait list for the housing voucher program. About 20 slots open per year, and the program typically hovers around 99% occupancy, Belford said. Typical wait time is about two years.

It also provides subsidized public housing to low-income, elderly and disabled residents at Hillcrest Towers, 1 N. School Ave.; Lewis Plaza, 401 S. Lewis Ave.; Willow Heights, 10 S. Willow Ave.; and Morgan Manor, 324 E. 12th Place.

The wait list for public housing units has 400 names on it. At least two or three units come available every month, Belford said.

Under the new policy, one out of 10 available vouchers and public-housing units would go to those experiencing homelessness, Belford said. The rest would go to those waiting next in line.

Another stream of housing assistance is about to open up. The authority will soon start issuing vouchers under the Arkansas Development's Finance Authority's rental assistance program. The program provides yearlong assistance to residents waiting to receive a housing voucher, and can be renewed annually. It functions in much the same way as Section 8, although it covers rent and utility deposits in addition to rental assistance, which Section 8 doesn't. Residents can roll into the traditional voucher program from the finance authority's program.

The state program will provide $225,000 every year to the housing authority and serve 40 residents. That means four more homeless people will have a path to a housing voucher.

The continuum's list is sorted by a number of criteria, with a score given to each name, said Steve Burt, continuum executive director. Continuum members also conference call each other on individual client cases. The continuum will recommend names to the Housing Authority, who will place people where appropriate. Assistance will be open to anyone on the by-name list, including people living outside the city, as long as they're willing to live in the city.

Giving priority to the homeless, even with those few available spots, will make a huge difference in getting names off the continuum's list, Burt said. Those are names of the most vulnerable people who may not otherwise be next in line for housing assistance.

"That becomes significant when you start to think about how these are individuals, families and households who've been sleeping in the woods," he said. "Incrementally it does not sound like a great deal of people. But these are peoples' lives that are going to be changed forever."

Jessica Andrews, chief executive officer with 7 Hills Homeless Center, said the goal is to get people from homelessness to housing, and the Housing Authority will be able to have a more direct part in that. The new policy will make it possible for residents experiencing homeless to not have to wait two years for a housing voucher, she said.

"The collaboration will increase, for sure," she said. "The Housing Authority will now be participating in coordinated entry, along with 7 Hills and other housing agencies that are at the table."

The authority's updated policy and newly adopted voucher program are set to take effect next month.

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NW News on 06/17/2019

Print Headline: New policy to open door for homeless residents


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