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Public housing full in Broward County, with need expected to rise

Brittany Wallman, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale)
January 26, 2009
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Jan. 26--"Please be advised that all waiting lists are closed."

"We are not accepting any applications at this time."

That's the message callers to the Hollywood Housing Authority are getting.

At a time more people than ever might find themselves facing homelessness, Broward County Click here for restaurant inspection reports has no public housing left. It's all full.

Officials with housing authorities in Broward County said there are no available public housing apartments, and the Section 8 housing voucher program is also maxed out. The waiting lists already are so long and the turnover is so slight, a person could remain on a list for years.

The six housing authorities in Broward have about 1,566 apartments and about 9,700 Section 8 recipients who can use the vouchers for public or private housing, according to Kevin Cregan of the Broward County Housing Authority. And that's only enough to meet about 10 percent of the need, he estimated.

Housing officials said they expect more "situationally homeless" this year, using their term for people whose life situations, such as job losses, toss them out of their homes unexpectedly. But they said government housing programs won't be able to help those people.

"The demand is far greater than the supply, and that's pretty much Broward County, [and] the tri-county area," said Patrice Edwards, assistant director of the Pompano Beach Housing Authority.

The grand opening earlier this month of new public housing at Dixie Court in Fort Lauderdale gave some people false hope. The complex still has some openings, but the system is closed to new applicants. Only those already approved for Section 8 can move in, officials said last week.

Michelle Smith found out when she called to see whether Dixie Court could help her godmother. A former welfare recipient, Smith, 39, said she's self-sufficient and working at a surgical facility. Her godmother, though, is a senior citizen who needs help.

"She's always worked, sometimes two jobs," Smith said. "But it's not enough to pay $1,000 for rent. She can't afford to do that, and then eat."

Although prices for housing have fallen in Broward County, rents have not, Cregan said.

And even if condos cost only $50,000, low-income people can't get loans in the currently tight financing market.

New affordable housing isn't being developed.

"The problem right now is everybody's incomes are cut, a lot of them aren't working, they're looking for some sort of subsidy on their rent," said Tam English, director of the Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority. "Right now there's not a lot of options."

Fort Lauderdale and Broward County housing authorities might open waiting lists sometime in 2009. The last time the county housing authority opened its list was in 2002, and Cregan said all 3,000 spots were filled in less than one day.

"We had to go to BellSouth to enhance their equipment. The volume of calls shut off service to surrounding businesses the time prior," he said. "If we open up the waiting lists at any time, we'd be overwhelmed with the number."

One problem is that unlike welfare assistance, which requires recipients to get a job, residents are allowed to stay in public housing as long as they don't make too much money to qualify, English said.

"There are some people in there who are in their 30s and 40s that were born in public housing in Fort Lauderdale," English said.

Private affordable housing could be an option for some, though not for the extremely poor. The county keeps a list of affordable housing apartments that were built using federal tax credits. Rents there are controlled, and only the income-eligible can live there. The list can be seen at www.broward.org/housing/links.htm -- click on "rental opportunities."

Brittany Wallman can be reached at bwallman@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4541.

To see more of the Sun Sentinel or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sun-sentinel.com/. Copyright © 2009, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

Copyright 2009 South Florida Sun-Sentinel

 

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