More than 5,000 people applied for Racine’s Section 8 housing vouchers, also known as housing-choice vouchers, in August 2018 when applications opened up for the first time since October 2014.
Of the 5,093 applications, 3,336 were from Wisconsin — it is not known how many of those applications came from within Racine County. The rest of the applications came from 35 other states, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
That wasn’t the first time out-of-area people flocked to Racine to try to get government assistance.
In 2014, when the waiting list opened, the Racine County Housing Authority estimated that about 800 of the applicants, more than a quarter, came from outside the county, including from as far away as Indiana, Minnesota and Tennessee.
Throughout the nation, money is distributed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to counties for housing assistance. Each area gets a finite amount of money to distribute to those in need.
Linda Ring Weber, the former Housing Authority executive director, justified the decision to allow out of state recipients equal access to vouchers by saying, many out-of-state applicants come from people who used to live in southeast Wisconsin or who have family here.
“Nobody from Wyoming is reading about this in the newspaper. Some relative is calling them,” Weber said. “That’s why this is a federal program. It’s a good thing. That way people can come back home.”
There is no doubt that there is need throughout the nation. But when there is a finite amount of money, local agencies should prioritize local residents, as the new Housing Authority policies are now doing.
Of those people living here, it also makes sense for those who are currently homeless to get help first. That is the goal of a pilot program which is setting aside 25 vouchers for people who are currently homeless, with HUD approval, according to Racine County Housing Authority Executive Director Larissa Deedrich.
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The Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization shelter has been over capacity since mid-May. Its executive director, Gai
Lorenzen, says the vouchers for people experiencing homelessness could help them treat their ongoing problem.
“It should help us with the shelter census, because we’ll be able to move people out faster,” Lorenzen told The Journal Times. “The whole idea is to help them stabilize, getting them better employment, or education to get better skills to help them gain better employment.”
And it’s not as though these recipients will get a handout and then wave goodbye.
The voucher recipients who are currently homeless will still receive up to six months of case management through HALO, helping them with budgeting, education and finding adequate employment.
Over time, the recipients should be able to afford the rent themselves by obtaining a family-supporting job, giving others the opportunity to get a voucher themselves in their time of need.
Based on the number of people who have applied for assistance, Racine County has more than enough people in need.
The policy now of prioritizing local residents, and especially the homeless, is a welcome change that should help our community.