Housing help offer questioned
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 11:44

Resident finds programs don’t match promises

by Nicole Rodman

For Holabird Avenue resident Mary (her real name has been withheld to protect her privacy), the past two years have been pretty rough.
    A senior citizen, she lost her job in February 2010 and has been unable to find employment since.
    Her benefits having just run out last month, Mary was in dire straits, unable to pay the rent on her apartment.
    Just as things seemed darkest, Mary — a regular Eagle reader — spotted a brief in the paper detailing various government programs to assist renters and homeowners (“Government offers help to renters, homeowners”).
    The brief, which ran on page 17 of The Eagle’s Aug. 30 issue, noted that anyone struggling to pay their rent could find assistance by contacting their local Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office.

Reprinted verbatim from a USA.gov release and published by The Eagle as an intended public service,  the piece stated, “These offices offer rental assistance programs like privately-owned subsidized housing, public housing, and housing choice vouchers.”
    Seeing a potential solution to her problem, Mary called the HUD Baltimore field office.
    According to Mary, after telling the HUD representative about the brief she read in the The Eagle she was transferred to a line that rang continuously with no answer or voicemail message.
    Slightly frustrated, Mary re-read the brief and found the line stating “You may also be able to find help from your state housing authority or your local public housing agency.”
    However, upon calling her local public housing authority — the Baltimore County Housing Office — part of the Baltimore County Department of Social Services — she was told that no assistance was available.
    Finally, Mary sought the help of the librarians at the North Point Public Library.
    At the library, Mary was given a form for the Baltimore County Housing Office’s Housing Choice Voucher Program.
    According to the introduction letter accompanying the one-page application, “The Housing Choice Voucher Program provides rental subsidies to income- eligible households.”
    As part of the program, participants receive vouchers allowing them to rent housing while paying just 30 to 40 percent of their income. The Baltimore County Housing Office pays the rest.
    However, with resources for the program limited, few applicants make it into the program each year.
    As Mary was told upon completing the application, there is currently a seven-year waiting list for those needing assistance.
    Already discouraged, Mary was further frustrated by news of the seven-year waiting list. It was then that she decided to call The Eagle.
    After some investigation, The Eagle was able to confirm that there is, indeed, a seven-year waiting list for applicants to the Baltimore County Housing Office’s Housing Choice Voucher Program.
    According to Donna White, a representative with the U.S. HUD office, in many areas of the country, housing voucher waiting lists are years long due to a lack of affordable housing.
    As White noted during a phone interview on Monday, each year 2.2 million people seek vouchers as part of this program.   
    While applying for the program will get you on the waiting list, it does not ensure that you will stay there.
    As White explained, every few years the list is “cleaned out,” with the names of uninterested  and ineligible applicants being purged.
    If an applicant does not periodically call the office expressing continued interest in the voucher program, they are in danger of being removed from the list altogether.
    Mary is perplexed as to why the government would publicize an assistance program without mentioning the waiting list.
    “The way the article read it made it sound like help is available now, not in seven years,” she explained last week.
    She also expressed her dissatisfaction at both HUD and the Baltimore County Housing Office, both of which she noted were “not helpful.”
    When asked during a phone interview with The Eagle if she had been given a reason as to the lengthy waiting period, she replied that she had not.
    As she explained,“I have no idea because they really don’t take the time to help you.”
    Further on in the Aug. 30 Eagle brief, additional resources for senior citizens, veterans and disabled persons are also mentioned.
    However, as a representative for the Baltimore County Housing Office noted on Monday, there are no renter assistance programs available for seniors or the disabled.
    As the representative explained, the only program assisting veterans with housing is for homeless veterans.
    Information on this program can be obtained by calling Alliance, Inc. at 410-282-5900, ext. 3333.
    A quick search of the Baltimore County Housing Office website, however, led to information on the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.
    To be eligible for this program, applicants must be honorably-discharged veterans making less than 50 percent of the median income for their area.
    Information on this program can be obtained by calling Rebecca Sheetz at 410-605-7000, extension 7355.
    After thorough investigation of the claims made in The Eagle’s Aug. 30 brief   entitled “Government offers help to renters, homeowners”, the information appears to be inaccurate and incomplete.
    As such, it has been removed from circulation and will not run in any future issues.
    For those seeking information on programs that are available for renters and homeowners in Baltimore County, contact the Baltimore County Housing Office, located at 6401 York Road, at (410) 853-8900 or visit www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/socialservices/housingassistance/.
    The Baltimore field office of HUD, on the fifth floor of 10 South Howard Street in Baltimore City, can be reached by phone at 410-962-2520 or via e-mail at MD_