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More renters seeking assistance

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

More people in King County want government-subsidized help paying their rent than are receiving it.

And based on percentages and the rental market, a sizable number of new applications for assistance may be in the county’s south end.

The King County Housing Authority received almost 7,000 applications for its Section 8 Rental Assistance Program during the recent two-week period in which the waiting list was reopened. Officials reported it’s the largest number of applications the agency has ever received –– 33 percent higher than in August 2000, the last time applications were accepted.

“This reflects the hard reality that housing costs continue to significantly surpass wage earnings,” plus the “alarming shortage of affordable housing options, particularly for families at the bottom of the economic ladder,” said Stephen Norman, executive director of the housing authority.

Unemployment is another likely factor for the increase in applications, officials said.

Applicants for Section 8 assistance must be homeless or about to become homeless, live in substandard housing or be spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent.

A drawing in July will determine each applicant’s place on the waiting list. Applicants low on the list could face a wait of more than five years to obtain a voucher. They’ll be notified in writing where they stand, and they’ll be able to check periodically by phone on whether they’ve moved up on the list.

If the federal-funded program could accommodate all of the new applications, which it can’t, the number of Section 8 households in King County would more than double. Currently, more than 6,400 families are being served.

The housing authority didn’t have a breakdown on how many new applications came from Federal Way and other south county areas. But nearly half of the existing Section 8 households are here –– 1,046 vouchers in the Federal Way area, 641 in the Auburn area, and 1,144 in the Kent/Kent East Hill area.

Rent is generally lower in these areas, a primary reason for the high percentage of Section 8 vouchers here, said Rhonda Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for the housing authority.

The program pays rental subsidies – provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and managed by the housing authority – to private landlords on behalf of the participating renters. Generally, renters pay 30 to 40 percent of their income (adjusted for family size and utility costs) for rent, and HUD pays the difference to landlords. For instance, someone earning $20,000 a year would pay about $500 a month as their share.

The program, the largest of its kind in King County, helps participants find and keep affordable housing until they no longer need assistance.

“People at the bottom of the ladder have fewer choices,” Rosenberg said.

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and editor@fedwaymirror.com

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