As affordable housing remains an issue in Flagstaff, residents looking to city-run housing programs for help are running into the challenge of long wait times.
Waits for public housing and Section 8 vouchers, which are managed by the city, have grown longer and longer, with one individual in need of public housing approaching his 10th year on a city wait list, said city housing director Sarah Darr.
Public housing units, which are funded and regulated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, are available based on two factors: what kind of unit an individual or family needs and how prioritized they are.
For example, the elderly and those with disabilities are prioritized for housing, said Deborah Beals, the finance manager for the housing section, adding that wait times also depend on whether they need a one-bedroom unit or something larger.
When it comes to public housing, Beals said the city only has 20 one-bedroom units between Siler Homes and Brannen Homes, far fewer than what is needed. For those units, average wait times are between three to five years.
There are another 32 one-bedroom units at Clark Homes, which, although managed by the city in a similar way to other public housing developments, uses a separate system. Average wait times for one-bedroom units there are about a year and a half to two years depending on how prioritized people are.
And these one-bedroom units are in short supply and high demand, especially as people age out of working and find it hard to stay afloat in Flagstaff, Beals said.
“With the baby boomers, that has really become an issue. So the one-bedroom list has really become a wait -- that’s where the guy who’s been waiting for 10 years is,” Beals said.
Two- and three-bedroom units are in similarly high demand and thus have comparable wait times, Beals added.
The average wait time for one of the city’s 72 two-bedroom units in public housing is two to three years, and about one year for three-bedroom units.
In Clark Homes, average waits for a two-bedroom unit is a year and a half to two years and is two to three years for three-bedroom apartments.
Wait times are similarly long for four- and five-bedroom units -- which don’t turn over as often -- but at the same time, Darr said there are far fewer people who have families large enough to qualify for them.
With wait times so long, many of those who apply put their names on as many lists as they can with the hope that one will allow them to get a unit, Darr said. This is different from how non-governmental agencies in Flagstaff operate.
Agencies like Flagstaff Shelter Services, Catholic Charities and Housing Solutions of Northern Arizona have coordinated between themselves to create a single wait list that feeds into both shelters and affordable housing programs. But federal regulations mean when it comes to public housing, this is not possible, Darr said.
That is also the case for the Section 8 voucher program, which provides participants with money to rent market-rate apartments and houses in and around the city, said Tracey French, the city’s Section 8 manager. At the moment, there are 174 families on the waiting list hoping to receive one of the 333 Section 8 vouchers that HUD allows the city to give out.
“The best way to explain it is recycling,” French said. “We have only so much turnover a year, say 10 or 12 percent. That’s [the number of vouchers] we can issue out into the community.”
At the rate those who have vouchers generally turn them over, it will likely take about three years for those on the list now to get a voucher, French said. But that’s when people can get on the list.
For the last year and a half, French said that list has been closed to new applicants. After they are able to reduce the number of people waiting, they will again start taking applications.
“We don’t want it to be a hopeless situation. There should be a reasonable expectation that you should come to the top of that [Section 8] list and be housed,” Darr said.
A solution to the issue of long waits is not likely to come from the Section 8 program or the public housing program themselves, however. HUD hasn’t expanded the number of vouchers the city can give out in decades, Beals said.
The city is, however, examining the possibility of redeveloping public housing units, which could increase the number and thus their availability.
The Daily Sun reached out to those on wait lists through the city, but did not hear back by publication.