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Erik Burgess, Published July 05 2012

Moorhead closes waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers

FARGO – Tiffany Smith has been looking for a place to call home for seven years.

Smith, 27, and her four small children have been homeless, moving from city to city, trying to find a place to settle down since 2005.

With her sister’s advice, she found the YWCA shelter here last February.

“We didn’t have anywhere to go after I left my kids’ dad,” Smith said. She left an abusive relationship behind her in St. Paul. “I decided to come here and just better me and my kids’ life.”

Now she’s on the waiting list for a Section 8 voucher for affordable housing, administered by the Public Housing Authority.

She’s been on the list for more than a year.

“I was aware that it was going to be a couple months,” she said. “No one ever said that it was going to be a couple years.”

The list in Fargo is about three years long. The list in Moorhead – at four and a half years long – was closed off last Tuesday.

After recommendations by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Moorhead Public Housing Authority closed their waiting list for the affordable housing vouchers June 26.

“They looked at our waiting list and said: ‘Why do you have this list open? There’s so many people on it.’ ” said Sally Roe, executive director for Moorhead’s housing authority.

Roe said by closing the list – which has 450 waiting households – they can work to “purge” the list of families that no longer want or need a voucher.

Section 8 vouchers are federally funded and assist low-income families with renting property.

Having a voucher would mean stability and security, Smith said, and being able to finally settle down and save for her family.

Meanwhile, even though Fargo’s list is growing, Director Lynn Fundingsland said there are no plans to close it off – yet.

“We’ve talked about closing it from time to time,” he said.

Smith said she checks on the status of the list frequently.

“Now I just call like every other month and see where I’m at on the waiting list,” she said.

For Moorhead, Roe said it all comes down to funding.

Out of the four Section 8 programs in the area – Fargo, Moorhead, Clay and Cass counties – Moorhead’s is the smallest, she said.

They have 95 vouchers to give out, but funding has tightened in recent years.

“In the past, HUD would say ‘OK, you’ve got 95 vouchers – fill ’em,’ ” Roe said. “But now they are very concerned about how much cash you are spending each month.”

Moorhead doesn’t receive new vouchers each year, either. The household using the voucher either has to move to a new location or stop requesting the assistance.

The Moorhead households who have the vouchers now, “... have been on our Section 8 program for years and years and years,” Roe said. “We can’t help more people until somebody else doesn’t need the help.”

Both authorities said longer lists exist all over the country. Donna McMasters, president of the Moorhead housing board, said the wait in Minneapolis is five years.

“There are more and more people in need,” she said. “Agencies all across the country, not just here but everywhere, are really having problems.”

The official HUD website says long waiting periods are common, but Roe said the Moorhead waiting period is the longest she’s seen in her 30 years at the authority.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518