No more space on wait list for public housing

With a waiting time of up to two years for people to find public housing through the Housing Authority of Grays Harbor County, officials there have stopped adding names to the wait list and won’t take any more for the foreseeable future. It’s the first time in the memory of workers there this has been necessary.

“There are approximately 1,000 applicants and we anticipate a wait time of 18 to 24 months,” the housing authority said in its announcement last week.

More than 400 names on the waiting list are of people seeking studio-size dwellings and another 300 want to find two-bedroom units. One- and three-bedroom dwellings each have nearly 150 names on the wait list while 18 people seek four-bedroom locations, according to the authority.

The number of available public housing units is lower than in the recent past. Thus, “people also need to pursue other options,” said Jerry Raines, the authority’s executive director.

Trying to find public housing in a variety of locations is highly encouraged. Some applicants apply for such housing outside of the county or even the state, if feasible.

People interested in getting into public housing are being asked to let the housing authority know when they find a suitable living arrangement or change their address or other contact information. Employees of the housing department have to follow notification requirements and not knowing how to reach someone or having to contact someone no longer interested in going into one of the spaces, Raines stressed.

A different waiting list for housing choice vouchers has been closed before. In 2015, it was reopened for three weeks after the authority stopped taking more names in 2013. There are 133 names on this waiting list currently. These are for very low-income families, seniors and disabled people to obtain housing in the private market and are from a federal housing program.

The authority has an inventory of 315 units of varying sizes in Aberdeen and 203 more units in other parts of the county, specifically Hoquiam and Elma. They receive vouchers for 223 additional dwelling units.

Part of the increase in names on the wait list can be attributed to the Coastal Community Action Program’s efforts to identify people across the county who need housing assistance.

A significant number of those who seek public housing are working families. Raines explained that a lack of family-wage jobs means many families have few housing options so this is all they can afford.

“People aren’t moving. They are tied to the community,” said Lisa Boone, deputy director. “They are the people who take care of your children. The people who bag your groceries.”

Other segments of the population who seek help from the housing authority are seniors and the disabled. Many in the latter group require one-bedroom units — more commonly rented to couples — because of their physical challenges.

The reason why the housing authority isn’t building more units is that it doesn’t have the money, Raines said. Profits from rent and about $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are used to help maintain existing public housing, Raines said.

The federal government built a great deal of public housing across the nation during the 1970s but now “HUD cannot give us enough money to maintain what we have right now,” he explained.

Raines commented that the 96 small studio apartments being discussed for East Huntley Street in South Aberdeen by CCAP and Shelter Resources Inc., of Seattle is a good project that would fill local needs for area homeless as well as others who could benefit from on-site mental health and substance abuse services.

How the estimated $15 million project will be funded still remains unknown. CCAP has approached Grays Harbor County and the city of Aberdeen for support.

On Monday, Feb. 13, the county commissioners agreed to commit $250,000 to the project, if the project moves forward in 2017. Should the project not move forward this year, CCAP would have to ask for a commitment from the commissioners in the next year the project is pursued.

The city would provide labor worth the same amount of money, Craig Dublanko, the CEO of CCAP, said last week.

While it would definitely benefit a large number of people, it’s unclear exactly how many others there are around the county who require the help with housing. That’s because it’s a population that calls a variety of places home: doubling up with roommates, couch surfing and, sometimes, living in their vehicle or out in the street, Raines added.