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100 families to get rent vouchers

The Baltimore Sun

About 100 low-income families are set to get Section 8 federal rent vouchers as Howard County prepares to reopen its long-closed waiting list next month.

Once the list opens, probably after May 15, new families will be able to apply, though it may take a year or more to serve some of them, said Howard County housing officials. The reopening of the county list, closed since November 2003, also will help families living in the county's homeless shelter by creating more opportunities to obtain apartments through the federal rent subsidy program, said Sam Tucker, Section 8 coordinator.

Tucker said the list, swollen to about 1,500 families when it was closed, has been purged after months of trying to contact people listed. Only 100 families on the list were found to be immediately eligible and still interested in obtaining a Section 8 rental voucher.

The program allows people with incomes less than 50 percent of the area median to get a voucher and use it to find a place to rent. Federal rules require 75 percent of the vouchers to go to the lowest-income people, those below 30 percent of area median. For a family of four, for example, the maximum income is $23,450 in Howard, officials said.

The program is intended to allow families to spend no more than one-third of their monthly household income on housing, using the voucher to pay the rest of the rent. Tucker said the voucher program allows families to pay up to 40 percent of their income for rent, using their money to supplement the voucher if they can't find an affordable place.

The county's waiting list was closed because rising rents and a tight rental market combined with constricted federal funding for the Section 8 program left almost no vouchers available for new users.

Once the list reopens, said the county housing director, Stacy L. Spann, the county won't wait as long to review those on it.

"We won't do it every five years. We'll do it quarterly" to keep it up to date, he said. In March, the county had 690 vouchers in use.

William A. Ross, vice chairman of the Howard County Housing Commission, told Spann he is happy to see the old list purged and reopened."I compliment you on the purging of the housing voucher list. You got it down to something you can work with. I think it makes a lot of sense," he said at a combined meeting of the commission and the Housing and Community Development Board last week.

A tougher issue may be the uneven receipt of federal funding for the program, Spann said.

"It's still a mystery what they're doing with our funding," he told the commissioners and board members.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has been eliminating unused voucher funding at the end of each year to reduce spending on housing.

"Future funding is based on what we've spent the previous year," Spann explained. But partly because Congress doesn't typically approve a federal budget until months after the federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30, the funding received by the county can arrive erratically. Still, if it isn't spent quickly enough, HUD may reduce the county's annual funding by the unspent amount.

"That's HUD math," said commission member Michael G. Riemer.

Last fall, Spann said, the county got more voucher funding near the end of the fiscal year, but feared losing part of it this year if it wasn't spent quickly.

Attempts to get clarification from HUD via letters were not answered, Spann said. Later, after intervention on the county's behalf by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office, Spann said, his agency got a letter from HUD stating the problem was solved, though no solution has been revealed to the county.

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