Individuals and families looking for affordable housing have until Friday to get on the waiting list before the Columbia Housing Authority cuts it off.
Officials said the organization has to shut down the list because there are far too many people to house for the number of units they have.
“It’s just not realistic to keep taking applications when its just going to be four years before we call you for housing,” said Nancy Stoudenmire, CHA director of human resources and planning.
There are currently 8,500 displaced households on the waiting list, but Stoudenmire said the actual number of individuals is close to 20,000.
“One application can be a family of five,” she said.
CHA officials decided in early November to close the wait list. Those who have applied for housing include individuals, families and seniors.
With this announcement, three of CHA’s major programs are closed — public housing, Section 8 and the senior housing. The latter two had been suspended for the past few years.
Stoudenmire said CHA would schedule a day next year to accept applications, but she anticipates it will draw a larger crowd than before.
“The last time we did it, when we opened up list for that one day, we had almost 6,000 applications in five hours,” she said.
CHA has 2,200 units of public housing consisting of apartments, houses and high rises. About 500 units are dedicated to seniors 50 and older. They also offer Section 8, a rent-assistance program that serves about 3,600 families. In total, the CHA serves close to 6,000 families in Richland County, Stoudenmire said.
“It was difficult to close the public housing waiting list,” Executive Director Gilbert Walker said. “The need for affordable housing has never been greater.”
CHA took applications for Section 8 housing from March 2007 to January 2008. Stoudenmire said the wait list rose to 9,000 households, which forced CHA to close it.
As of now, CHA has reduced that number down to 200 households. Stoudenmire said they hope to reopen the Section 8 waiting list next May and will accept applications through a lottery.
She also said they probably would open the senior waitlist in the next two to three years.
Stoudenmire said the reasons for the high number of individuals in Richland County needing housing are simple; a combination of the poor economy and the lack of affordable housing is driving families out onto the street.
“Since it’s gotten worse and worse,” Stoudenmire said. “I get hundreds of phone calls and emails a day asking for assistance.”
Stoudenmire said people have jobs, but can’t afford housing. She said the current average fair market rate for housing according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is $900 a month including rent and utilities.
Within Richland County, rent for a one bedroom apartment with utilities is $666, said Stoudenmire. CHA’s Section 8 voucher program assists with the cost of housing, but it’s not enough.
“People have to make $13.50 an hour to get affordable housing,” she said.
The time of the average stay in public housing varies, Stoudenmire said. Individuals must maintain timely rent payments and avoid housing violations to stay in the housing. She said some who look for housing try to get away from bad situations or desire a low-cost housing situation to improve their lives.
Stoudenmire said one of her clients, a single mother, moved into a public housing unit and began work as a certified nursing assistant at a local hospital. At night she went to school and ended up with a job promotion, a $40,000 salary and the ability to own her first home.
“Some people want to get a reprieve and try to get back on their feet again,” Stoudenmire said.
CHA has two options to apply for housing by Friday. Interested applicants can go online to www.chasc.org and click “How to Apply,” or they can apply in person at the CHA main office at 1917 Harden St.