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The waiting list for public housing in Baltimore is so large that the Housing Authority is not accepting more applicants at this time.

Baltimore’s public housing authority announced Tuesday that it will cease accepting applications from residents, citing more than 14,000 applications on a wait list and an average wait time of more than five years.

Residents have until Dec. 20 to apply for public housing before the housing authority stops taking the applications, the authority said in a release.

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“This is a decision we wish we didn’t have to make but by continuing to accept applications we would be performing a disservice and creating a false sense of hope that we can accommodate applicants in the near term,” HABC President and CEO Janet Abrahams said in a statement. “The applicants at the top of our waiting list right now have been waiting on average between five and seven years. We work very hard to serve as many households as possible but simply don’t have the resources to meet the tremendous need.”

Agency officials said they “streamlined” the wait list this year, almost halving the total number of applications from 27,000.

Abrahams encouraged families in need to use programs through Mayor’s Office of Human Services. In an interview Tuesday night, she said the housing authority was never meant to provide shelter for people in emergency situations but instead aims to provide long-term affordable housing for families.

The authority began an intensive review of the wait list in January after realizing its staff often had to contact more than a dozen people on the list to find one still interested in a unit, Abrahams said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun at the time.

“What we have found is that we have had residents who have moved out of the city, passed away, so it’s just cleaning up the list, which is something that housing authorities do across the country,” she said at the time. “We just want to get a clean list so we can lease the units.”

Residents who did not respond to efforts by authority staff to contact them were not removed immediately from the list, but suspended as officials made additional efforts to contact them, Abrahams said.

Applicants are placed on the wait list by the date and time they submit applications, Abrahams said. The goal is to place the remaining 14,000 on the list into housing over the next 10 years.

Abrahams said once the agency has worked through the list, offering housing to everyone who wants it, only then will the the list be reopened.

The U.S. has an estimated shortage of about seven million affordable rental homes, according to a 2019 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Maryland also has a shortage of affordable rental homes for extremely low income households, those whose incomes are at or below poverty guidelines or who make 30% of their area median income.

Andrew Aurand, vice president of research for the housing coalition, said the lack of affordable housing has a significant impact on families, who tend to sacrifice spending on basic necessities like food and health care when rent costs more than half of their income. Children with unstable housing generally do not perform as well academically as those who live in stable housing, Aurand said.

“What you’re seeing in Baltimore, we’re seeing in a lot of cities and communities,” he said.

A coalition survey of more than 300 public housing authorities across the country found that more than half had closed waiting lists for housing vouchers and one of every 10 had closed waiting lists for public housing, Aurand said. The survey did not explore the reasons why the waiting lists had closed.

The Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership’s voucher program was closed to new applicants in 2017. And the housing authority’s Housing Choice Voucher Program, a rental subsidy program for Section 8 vouchers, is also closed to new applications.

The Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis also closed its public housing wait list for a period of time.

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Those who remain on Baltimore’s waiting list and still in need of public housing are asked to notify housing authority officials when their address or contact information changes.

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City is the fifth largest public housing agency in the country, providing housing to more than 23,000 households.

Baltimore Sun reporters Kevin Rector and McKenna Oxenden contributed to this article.

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