More than 6,500 people applied for housing this year when the Chattanooga Housing Authority opened its Housing Choice Voucher waiting list, illustrating the need for affordable housing. Yet, only 60 percent of people show up for meetings when called and fewer than that come to get the vouchers.
The lack of leased vouchers means the housing authority doesn't get all the money available to operate the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
It's losing about $11,000 a month because of unleased vouchers. Having that money could produce better customer service for landlords and voucher holders. The housing authority also loses time when officials do background checks and process paperwork for a potential voucher holder who never comes to the eligibility meeting.
"Even if people don't show, you're still doing background checks, writing letters, and you're still doing all the work, but no voucher comes of it," said Tammie Carpenter, CHA's Housing Choice Voucher Program director.
The next voucher briefing and orientation meeting for pre-selected applicants is May 29. The meeting will last about three hours and vouchers will be issued that day.
CHA generated its latest waiting list of 1,000 applicants in January. The housing agency calls in 100 people a month from the list because it wants to quickly lease up all 3,500 vouchers it has available. Only 59 of 100 people showed up for the voucher eligibility meeting in May.
Only five of 30 people came to the recall meeting of no-shows in March, Carpenter said.
Housing officials say they're not sure why people aren't attending the meetings. But after two attempts to reach applicants, housing officials remove their names from the list and those applicants must wait until the waiting list opens again to reapply.
The only exceptions will be for people who have proof of an unavoidable reason for missing the meeting, such as a doctor's statement.
Waiting list administrator Theresa Biggs reminds residents to notify the housing authority if they change addresses. She said some mail sent to applicants has been returned. She also encourages applicants to "like" the Chattanooga Housing Authority on Facebook so that they will see information concerning meetings.
Those who no longer need housing are asked to send an email or letter to the CHA, Carpenter said.
Fifty-five-year-old Andrea Wilson said she's missed at least three appointments for a housing voucher because her daughter, who has cerebral palsy, was in the hospital.
But this year her daughter was healthy and they both went to the agency to apply for housing.
Wilson, a single mom, struggles to make payments at her current house without being in the voucher program. Getting assistance would enable her to better help her family, she said. Wilson is head of household for her disabled adult son and daughter and wants to find a three-bedroom residence.
"I prayed and said, 'Please don't let nobody get sick because I need some help,'" Wilson said.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.