October 7, 2013

Two housing lists open; most remain closed

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The Housing Authority of Champaign County's Wait List Application page.

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The Housing Authority of Champaign County's Wait List Application page.

By Robert Holly/CU-CitizenAccess.org — The Housing Authority of Champaign County started opening up parts of its public housing waiting list at the beginning of August, and it is now accepting housing applications for elderly one-bedroom apartments and family five-bedroom apartments.

But its housing choice voucher waiting list – also known as Section 8 housing – remains closed with no openings in sight.

“We don’t have any anticipation on when section 8 will open again,” said Edward Bland, the Housing Authority’s executive director.

The vouchers can be used for renting housing from approved landlords.

There are about 400 individuals currently on the waiting list for housing choice vouchers. The list most recently opened up in November of 2011, when 2,200 people submitted applications. At that time, less than one person out of every five was added to the list, meaning that more 1,600 applicants could not get on the waiting list.

Furthermore, winning a place on the waiting list is not a housing guarantee. Getting a spot on the list puts an applicant in line to receive a voucher once current voucher holders relinquish theirs, but that process can take years.

Local housing advocate Esther Patt said that, while the partial public housing openings are important, the housing choice voucher waiting list is the key to providing housing throughout the community.

“I’m always glad when a waiting list opens, since all of the lists are closed most of the time,” said Patt. “The greatest need expressed to the Champaign-Urbana Tenant Union is for affordable one-, two- and three-bedroom units for people under age 55 – that means the Housing Choice Voucher waiting list since all public housing other than one-bedroom units for senior citizens has been demolished.”

The Housing Authority of Champaign County’s closed voucher waiting list reflects the status of most Illinois housing authorities.

In June CU-CitizenAccess.org found through a survey of all Illinois housing authorities that about three out of every four housing authorities that issue vouchers have closed waiting lists like the one in Champaign.

CU-CitizenAccess.org also found that more than a dozen Illinois authorities were completely closed, meaning they didn’t have any openings on their public housing waiting lists or their voucher waiting list.

In June, the Champaign authority was one of those completely closed authorities.

The waiting list for one-bedroom apartments is only open for applicants older than 55 years old. Those apartments include the ones at Washington Square in Champaign, Steer Place in Urbana and Youman Place in Rantoul.

The waiting list for five-bedroom apartments is only open to larger-sized families. Those apartments are categorized as “scattered sites” and are dispersed throughout the community.

The waiting list for elderly one-bedroom apartments will stay open indefinitely, Bland said. It will only close if there’s a great number of people suddenly added to the list.

The waiting list for family five-bedroom apartments will close at the end of October.

Bland said the lists for elderly one-bedroom apartments and family five-bedroom apartments are opened, but there are no apartments available yet.

“Units may not open up for the next 12 months,” said Bland. “Normally, (elderly one-bedroom units) open up only when a resident will die, go into a nursing home or can no longer live by themselves.”

Like the voucher waiting list, public housing waiting lists for all other bedroom sizes remain closed.

“I’m not optimistic that the housing choice voucher list will ever open again,” said Patt.