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Lured By Cheap Rent, Voucher Applicants Flood CHA

If you’re in need of subsidized housing in Charlotte, chances are you’ll have to add your name to a wait list. But your timing has to be right because wait lists can open for a short time and close for a very long time. This week the Charlotte Housing Authority opened its wait list for Section 8, or housing choice vouchers, for the first time in seven years.  And people scrambled to get a spot.   

Word travels fast when Section 8 voucher lists open. After all, it rarely happens.     Christian Knox’s grandmother rang her up right after seeing it on TV last weekend. So Knox showed up at the Beatties Ford library Monday afternoon with her social security card in hand to sign up online.

She says she recently quit her job at CVS after she had a hard time finding someone to keep an eye on her thirteen-month old son.  She’s taking community college classes and hoping someday to become a nurse. 

“I don’t know want to be living on it forever.  But if I can get it now and, then, when I get my job, I’ll pay rent. I’m just trying to start somewhere.  This is the start of my beginning,” says Knox.     

Ten-thousand people signed up that day in the hopes of landing one of 4,958 housing choice vouchers the federal government offers through the CHA.  The wait list closes tonight at 5 p.m. and it’s not likely to open for many more years. 

Shawn Williams oversees the CHA’s voucher program.  She says many cities have determined this is the best way to handle all the demand.  

“We just want to make sure we have a list that’s sufficient, but not unrealistic for a family to think they’ll never have an opportunity for affordable housing,” says Williams. 

In order to get a voucher, someone else has to leave the program.  Williams says on average eighteen vouchers become available every month.  But many of those go back to people who already use them after they prove they’re still eligible.

CHA has about 700 more vouchers to offer than when the wait list opened seven years ago, but the demand has also grown based on just the first day’s sign ups. 

Sheila Crowley with the National Low Income Housing Coalition says getting on the housing choice wait lists is like entering a lottery.

“It’s really the luck of the draw if you end up getting housing assistance.  And then you get a lot of assistance.  You pay 30% of housing and the voucher pays for the rest,” says Crowley.    

The vouchers account for about half of the subsidized housing the CHA offers. There are other CHA wait lists open, but those are for spots in public housing developments. 

That’s not as appealing to Knox who wants to find a good home to raise her son. 

“With the voucher you can go anywhere and I’m going to find some place that has some standards,” says Knox.    

She would still need to find a landlord willing to take the vouchers, which isn’t always easy to do. 

The housing choice vouchers are the most popular subsidized housing the CHA offers.  To qualify, applicants must make less than 30 percent of the area’s median income.  Homeless families, working families, veterans, the elderly and victims of domestic violence get priority.

Knox knows the wait list will be long, but she’s still optimistic. 

“Something should happen and I’m hoping soon,” says Knox. 

Until then, she plans to share a room with her son in her mom’s apartment.

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.