CHA calls in 250 applicants for Housing Choice vouchers

photo Theresa Biggs, CHA Waiting List Manager, left, interviews a man in this 2012 file photo.

Chattanooga residents waiting nearly a decade for subsidized housing may get vouchers this weekend, but the Chattanooga Housing Authority knows the odds are against them finding a home.

Only 30 percent of people with vouchers will find a landlord to sign a lease, said Tammie Carpenter, director of the Housing Choice voucher program.

Residents with vouchers have a hard time finding apartments or homes because the housing authority reduced its rent payments to landlords, who get up to 15 percent less for rent this year than they did in 2012. Instead of taking the lower amount, many landlords find tenants who do not use the vouchers.

Rent payments are set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carpenter said she's hopeful that the federal agency will increase payments when it evaluates fair market housing rates in October.

Still, the challenges of finding new homes did not deter the crowd that sat at cafeteria-style tables in the housing authority's break room this week while waiting to discuss what was needed to complete the voucher application.

Waiting list administrator Theresa Biggs stood in the room to speak to a crowd of applicants.

"This process that normally happens in about two months is going to take about two days for you, so congratulations," Biggs said. The group applauded as she spoke.

Among the residents in the room were a mother with a special needs adult son, a single mom who spends more than half her paycheck on rent and mothers like LaShell Parker, who was separated from her children because she had no place for them to live. It also included homeless single fathers like Simon Nunez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who has been staying with friends while searching for housing.

The housing authority's goal is to use all of the 3,500 vouchers it gets from HUD. It has 211 vouchers not leased.

Residents have two months to find a landlord willing to accept their vouchers. If they are unsuccessful, they apply for a two-month extension. After four months, the voucher expires. To be considered for a voucher again the applicant must start the application process from scratch.

The housing authority will call in another 250 people off its waiting list on May 19. The goal is reducing the voucher waiting list from 1,000 people to 500 by the end of May, then calling in the remaining 500 people starting in July and reopening the waiting list in January 2015. It will be the first time the list was opened since 2010, when more than 5,000 people waited for vouchers.

Cassandra Robinson, a College Hill Courts resident of more than 25 years, said God showed her she was next "in line for a miracle."

"I knew a blessing was coming," she said.

"We're all here with a common goal," Robinson said. "We want housing."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yput [email protected] or 423-757-6431.