Charlotte Housing Authority wait list opens for first time since 2007

The Charlotte Housing Authority reports the Web site set up to take applications for Section 8 housing (http://www.charlottewaitlist.org) has experienced a high volume of visitors Monday, resulting in delays for some applicants seeking federal housing vouchers.

As of 11 a.m., more than 5,200 people had visited the site, officials said. Four thousand of them had completed applications and the remainder were in process, officials said.

Potential applicants are being advised by CHA officials to try later in the day. The Web site will be open 24 hours a day and will continue accepting applications until 5 p.m. Friday.

The last time the Charlotte Housing Authority invited people to put their name on the waiting list for federal housing subsidies, more than 10,000 people applied for 4,500 available spots in less than a week.

That was in 2007.

On Monday – after seven years spent whittling down that waiting list – the Housing Authority is ready again to take applications for only the second time in 14 years.

The window of opportunity will be open for five days, after which it’s likely applications won’t be taken again for possibly another seven years, organizers say.

Called Housing Choice Voucher, the program supplies federal rent subsidies for low-income families, the disabled, the elderly and veterans. Nearly half of those now being helped by the program in Charlotte have jobs but don’t earn enough to maintain a home, officials said.

Understandably, an onslaught of applicants is expected this week, but long lines and lengthy waits are not likely, thanks to a new partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Instead of being forced to visit CHA sites to fill out forms, applicants are being directed to apply online at the nearest library branch – all of which offer free computer service. No in-person applications will be taken at Housing Authority offices, officials said.

The result could be a rush on library branches come 10 a.m. Monday, but library officials say they’re more than ready. Not only have more computers been set aside for taking applications, but staff have been trained to answer common questions on the forms.

Housing authority staff are also being deployed to help at branches where large crowds are expected, such as the Main Library on North Tryon Street.

“We made the decision to transition to an online application process, to allow for more flexibility and accessibility for potential applicants,” A. Fulton Meachem, president of the Charlotte Housing Authority, said in a statement.

“The online portal allows people to apply at their convenience without standing in long lines. Once it’s launched, applications can be submitted 24/7 during the open period.”

Applications also can be submitted from home computers and other devices with Internet access, officials said.

The agency has slightly more vouchers than in 2007, with 4,958. But the demand is again expected to far exceed that number, officials said.

People who make it onto the list this week aren’t guaranteed a voucher. Instead, they are signing up to be in line if one of the 4,958 people already in the program drops out or is removed for some reason.

CHA officials say partnering with the library on the new “paperless” approach makes sense because it is the largest provider of free computer access in the county, with 919 computers for public use at 20 branches.

David Sniffin, adult services coordinator for the library, said preparations for the online application process began weeks ago, including increasing by about one-third the number of computers that can be used by the public for applications.

“We have no idea what will happen, but we expect the first two days to be the busiest,” Sniffin said.

Libraries aren’t the only sites helping people with applications. Nonprofits such as the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and the Salvation Army Center of Hope also will register qualified homeless men and women for the list at their offices.

Carson Dean of the Men’s Shelter said his agency found homes for nearly 500 men in the past fiscal year without easy access to Housing Choice Vouchers. But he admits it would have made his job a lot easier.

“We expect a huge demand this week to get on the waiting list, which is why we really appreciate the Housing Authority for putting homelessness near the top of the priority list,” Dean said.

Also near the top of the list are the elderly and homeless families with children, officials said. Those priorities determine an applicant’s place on the waiting list, not how quickly they signed up.

The Salvation Army Center of Hope houses examples of both in its overcrowded shelter on Spratt Street just outside of uptown.

“What we’re feeling is a sense of relief that the list is open,” said Deronda Metz of the Center of Hope. “We’re serving nearly 100 families now in the shelter, including some that work but aren’t earning enough money. To get in that (voucher) program means a parent knowing for years that their children will have stable housing.”

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