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A Long Wait For Subsidized Housing

This story was originally published on July 17, 2006

If all 40,000-plus people on the Miami-Dade Housing Agency's waiting list for subsidized housing got together, they could populate a city the size of Coral Gables.

For Broward's agency, the figure sounds much better - just 1,730 - until you learn the list is capped. "If we opened it up more, I'm sure we could have 40,000 people on our list, too, " said Kevin Cregan, executive director of the Broward County Housing Authority.

For those low-income families who do obtain housing assistance, benefits can include an apartment in a public complex or a voucher for rental assistance in the private market, a program known as Section 8. In most cases, participants pay 30 percent of their income for the housing. Government pays the rest.

But the county-compiled lists open only every few years, as directed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Adding more complication: Some municipalities have separate housing agencies. There are no central places to apply, wait times vary and application rules differ.

At the Miami-Dade housing agency, applications are ranked by random computer selection and the list is redone from scratch every few years. At the Broward housing agency, applications are taken by phone and entered into a computer; the earlier you call, the higher you are on the list.

Broward housing officials have to warn the phone company when they're about to open the list for calls, Cregan said. The last time was in 2003.

"The volume of calls indicates a huge number of people who need help, " he said.

The Miami-Dade list, which opened last year, may open again next year, said Sherra McLeod, spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Housing.

Other agencies might be able to help - if you happen to know about them. Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Hialeah and Homestead all have their own housing authorities, for example, and the Miami office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can help direct applicants to buildings geared for low-to-moderate income residents.

Special needs populations - the elderly or disabled - also can find buildings or programs aimed toward them, if they know where to look. Websites, often not easily accessible to the poor, are one of the best resources. The HUD website, www.hud.gov, offers lists of subsidized rental housing, including buildings specifically for the elderly.

Persistence pays, officials say.

"You need to apply to all of them to get a better chance of finding housing, " said Gloria Shanahan, spokeswoman for the Miami HUD office.

- AMY DRISCOLL

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