The city's housing authority stopped issuing vouchers for federal rent help ... Section 8s ... in January, but on Sept. 15 it went a step further: It has stopped even adding names to a waiting list that is more than 4,000 families long.
Hassan and Stacy Davis, with a stroller in tow, were among the last to sign up for Section 8 help.
"We need a little help to get a little better place," said Stacy, a file clerk at a local bank. With the voucher, the Davises hope to find an apartment in a safer neighborhood for their four children, ages 2 to 13. The family now lives on the North Side, next door to a tavern, and they say they cannot let their children outside. The couple also hopes to buy a house, and with a voucher they may become eligible for the housing authority's homeownership program. But for now, they'll just have to wait ... at least two years, warned Chuck Taylor, the administrative assistant at the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh's occupancy department who took their application.
Ever since federal funding cuts compelled the housing authority to stop issuing Section 8 vouchers, the waiting list has mushroomed. Once the last applications are added, the list will likely exceed 5,000 families.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Section 8 helps pay the rent for low-income households making less than half of the area median income(the income limit for a family of four here is $28,700, for instance). Any landlord willing to abide by HUD's rent and utility maximums ($755 a month in rent and utilities for a two-bedroom apartment in the city) can accept a voucher. Tenants pay no more than 30 percent of their income as rent and utilities, while HUD makes up the difference.
Even those whose names are already on the list complain about the wait. Brenda Skonieczny put in her application last December and is desperate to move out of the Squirrel Hill apartment she's unhappy about sharing. But without a subsidy, Skonieczny, who has multiple sclerosis and lives on Social Security Disability, is stuck. When she called the housing authority last month, she says she was told that she's 1,468th in line ... and that she should expect to wait two to five years before her turn comes.
Concludes Skonieczny: "It's very, very hopeless."
City housing officials say they will apply for more voucher funding as it becomes available after HUD kicks off its fiscal year Oct. 1. They'll be hoping for "as many vouchers as possible," says Kevin Bartko, deputy director overseeing the Section 8 program.
In order to make sure there is enough money to keep serving the 6,615 vouchers the housing authority has issued, Bartko says officials are considering curbing transfers to cities where the rent is significantly higher than in Pittsburgh.
Housing authority officials here and across the state may believe a bit of noise will bring attention to the need to restore federal funding. At 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 22, more than 400 housing officials gathering in McKees Rocks for a stateside summit, along with local public-housing tenants, plan to descend on the portico of the City-County Building. There, they will hold a rally to protest the funding cuts to housing authorities, and then march to Market Square.