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Published August 08 2010

Some have to wait years for housing assistance

Remnants of a struggling economy continue to show in the Red River Valley through years-long waiting lists for more than a thousand people seeking low-income housing assistance.

Area housing authorities continue to see wait times of two years or longer for those seeking help in paying their rent.

There’s just not enough housing assistance funding available to meet the high demand, but organizations are collaborating to offer other kinds of help when they can, officials said.

Although the Red River Valley has generally fared better than other regions during the national economic downturn, many still feel the impact.

Circumstances such as being out of work or earning a smaller household income drive more people to seek housing assistance.

That ever-growing demand sparked the Clay County Housing and Redevelopment Authority to close its waiting list in March, rather than keep adding names with no guarantee of fast help.

“We didn’t want people to have the sense of false hope, thinking when they were going to apply that they’d get help soon, when that wasn’t the case,” said Dara Lee, executive director of Clay County’s housing authority.

When the waiting list was closed, Clay County had more than 800 people waiting for assistance.

As of last week, there were still nearly 600 people listed, facing an estimated wait time of two to three years before they might receive assistance from the agency.

“We don’t see it diminishing from there until we get through some of the folks that are already on the waiting list,” Lee said, adding that they’re still working with people who requested aid in 2008.

Clay County plans to reopen its waiting list no later than January 2012, Lee said.

Across the river, Cass County’s waiting list remains open, but officials are seeing similar numbers for wait times.

As of last Monday, 509 people were on the list for housing assistance, and they might have to wait about three years, said Blake Strehlow, executive director of the Cass County Housing Authority.

There are no plans at this time to close Cass County’s waiting list, Strehlow said.

Both Lee and Strehlow agreed the lengthy waiting lists are a product of the economic times.

As individuals face reduced incomes, they need more financial help in paying their monthly rent, which drives up the cost of running the low-income housing assistance programs, Strehlow said.

Both Cass and Clay housing authorities collaborate with other local agencies and organizations, such as the YWCA Cass Clay, to provide help in the interim as individuals wait for their chance to receive housing assistance.

Although the YWCA is typically known for helping victims of domestic abuse, the organization’s other priorities include offering aid to those facing homelessness or difficult economic circumstances.

The YWCA oversees 34 units for transitional and permanent housing assistance, and staff members also offer guidance and classes to promote long-term stability for those facing financial hardship.

Community collaboration between aid agencies is key to tackling issues like poverty and homelessness, said Erin Prochnow, the YWCA’s executive director.

“We need to build on what’s already there,” she said. “Especially in these economic times, adding services that duplicate existing services is not the best use of resources.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541