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Heavy damage reported in Park Layne, Clark County

SMHA looking at changes to rental vouchers

Changes to the Springfield Metropolitan Housing Authority’s most-popular voucher program might provide faster access to housing opportunities.

SMHA is considering removing two local preferences from its rental assistance program, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, to give the 605 people on its waiting list a chance to find housing quicker.

“Everybody on our waiting list is needy and the process is so long that it’s just not helping people as quickly as we want to help,” SMHA Director of Assisted Housing Sherry Fleming said.

The agency’s Housing Choice Voucher Program allows applicants to find housing in the private market. SMHA uses about $453,000 of federal funds for vouchers each month, which provides housing for 1,349 people and families.

“There’s a great need and a great want for the voucher,” Fleming said.

SMHA currently uses three local preferences that can move an applicant higher on the wait list. It’s considering removing two of those preferences for:

• Families with at least one child who is employed at least 20 hours per week and paying at least 40 percent of their income for rent and utilities, or an elderly family paying at least 40 percent of income for rent and utilities.

• Women who are recovering from drug or alcohol addictions so they may be reunited with family and given a support system.

A third preference for local veterans will remain.

“We’ll never take that one away,” Fleming said.

If changed, all non-veterans would be put on the waiting list by time and date of their application. Families must qualify under U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards.

SMHA began a 30-day period on Tuesday for the public to submit comments on the proposed change. The board will likely vote on the revision at its September meeting.

The Section 8 program recently surveyed 100 people with preferences from the waiting list, and only 19 qualified through the preferences. Fleming said they had people on the waiting list who hadn’t kept their contact information current, and had to be taken off the list.

“It’s become such a long, drawn out process that it’s hampering us,” Fleming said. “We’re finding all of our people on our waiting list are in need.”

Fleming, who’s worked with SMHA for more than 25 years, said HUD previously had federal preferences for the vouchers, but removed those and allowed local preferences. Fleming said removing the two preferences will allow more people to get housing sooner.

HUD recently put out a notice allowing housing authorities the opportunity to eliminate waiting list preferences if it reduces administrative burdens. The SMHA staff time used to verify preferences was also becoming too difficult and time-consuming to handle.

“We have to try it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go back,” Fleming said. “We’ve got to try something to get people help faster.”

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