Housing voucher distribution stampede now under control

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Residents got a rare — and brief — chance to apply for rental assistance from Dallas County today. The county is accepting applications for the hard-to-get vouchers this morning for the first time in five years. But applicants may have to wait at least two years to actually get the federally funded Housing Choice Vouchers, also called Section 8.

“Based on the economy and what people are going through, you can expect a large number of people,” said Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services.

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Sure enough, thousands of people lined up early Thursday, some of them camping out overnight, at the Jesse Owens Memorial Complex in the Red Bird area of Dallas.Several Dallas County sheriff’s deputies kept things orderly, and Dallas-Fire Rescue paramedics were on hand in case of heat-related problems.

County officials were to begin accepting applications at 8 a.m. but started early for the many residents who got there before dawn.About 6 a.m., officials told applicants who had already formed their own line to line up elsewhere, and there was a rush to the new spot.

Daisy Emerson, 20, was among the first to apply after arriving at 4 a.m. to find what she estimated to be 3,000 people already in line.”It didn’t matter who got here first,” she said. “People who came yesterday shouldn’t have even wasted their time.”

Connie White, 61, arrived about 11:30 p.m. but lost her place when the line moved, hampered by a bad back and knee problems.”I need all the help I can get,” she said of the assistance the vouchers would provide.

The vouchers, which pay a portion of the rent based on household income, are in high demand. Most agencies that provide them have such long waiting lists that they have not accepted new applicants for years.Other recent opportunities to apply for the help drew thousands of applicants.

More than 21,000 applied for the assistance when the Dallas Housing Authority opened its waiting list in May for the first time in five years after exhausting the previous list.And 8,000 applied for 100 vouchers when Plano opened its waiting list for the first time in several years. Some of the applicants came from across the country. Applicants can live in any county but must meet income criteria.

The DHA used a lottery system to narrow its list to 5,000 names. Troy Broussard, senior vice president and chief operating officer, said the agency has started making appointments with applicants to move forward with the process. The agency is the largest provider of vouchers with about 17,000.

Dallas County, which administers about 3,800 vouchers, will not accept applications online like DHA and Plano recently did.Applicants must go to the Red Bird stadium to apply.

Thompson said the county decided not to use an online system because many people in need do not have access to computers and because of software problems that the DHA and Plano experienced.The DHA had to redo its application process after a software glitch caused the agency to temporarily lose applications.Plano’s website was overwhelmed and shut down for more than two hours.

Thompson said the county will offer the vouchers as they become available when current voucher users no longer need them. Some voucher recipients are elderly and disabled and need the assistance long-term.But others get back on their feet and become self-sufficient, freeing the vouchers for others to use.