Chattanooga Housing Authority has a waiting list of nearly 5,000 people, but when 300 applicants were selected for housing this fall, less than half of them responded.
Today, housing officials will issue 100 vouchers to the people who did respond and met eligibility requirements.
Loretta Tate, who lost her previous apartment after a fire nearly two years ago, has been sleeping from house to house hoping to get on the housing voucher waiting list.
"Oh wow," she said. "It's like the people who really need housing can't get it. We're out here struggling, but the people who don't need it are the ones being called. I don't understand."
But for the folks who do receive vouchers today, there's a second piece of good news. The amount paid to private landlords who accept new vouchers rose substantially starting in October as part of a "fair market rent" demonstration program.
Tammie Reeves, CHA's Housing Choice Voucher Program director, said she hopes that will cut by at least half the time needed to find a private rental.
A reduction in landlord payments early this year made it more difficult for voucher holders to find someone willing to rent to them. Coming just before CHA required residents of the Harriet Tubman public housing site to vacate in preparation for its sale or demolition, the payment reduction hurt those who had to rely on vouchers for a new place to live.
All former Harriet Tubman residents with vouchers have since found housing, said Reeves.
It was a slow process for some, but Reeves said more landlords started accepting housing vouchers in October after CHA began participating in the Small Area Fair Market Rent demonstration program.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offered the program allowing most landlords signing new leases to get a rent increase depending on their ZIP code.
So instead of getting $628 a month for a two-bedroom unit, as did landlords who signed leases from January 2012 to September 2012, landlords signing leases starting in October began receiving $970 a month for a two-bedroom home in the 37341 Harrison ZIP code. Those with properties in East Brainerd's 37421 ZIP code now get $800 and landlords signing a lease with a two-bedroom in the Orchard Knob/Glenwood and Brainerd areas with a 37404 or 37411 ZIP code now get $759 monthly.
Reeves expects most people who get vouchers today will wait until after the first of the year to start searching for housing. She says she hopes that with the payment increases for most areas that voucher holders will find a landlord within two months.
Previously, voucher holders often searched for housing for four months, until the voucher expired, and then had to get the voucher renewed because they still hadn't found a landlord willing to accept the payment.
This month, CHA also pulled names from the 4,800 remaining housing voucher applications.
Letters will be mailed to all applicants at the first of the year to determine if they're still eligible and interested in a housing voucher. Those who don't respond within two to four weeks will be purged from the list.
Housing officials anticipate that only about 2,000 of the 4,800 people will respond to the letters.
The applicants have been waiting since October 2010. After that long, some people have improved their financial status and no longer qualify for a voucher, said Reeves.