With nearly 10,000 households waiting for rent subsidies, the city of Napa is closing its sign-up list for the Section 8 Rental Assistance Program.
Housing Manager Lark Ferrell said at the rate the Housing Authority is able to issue assistance vouchers, it would take 24 years to serve those already on the list. It is largely made up of people who neither work nor live in Napa County.
Closing the list would allow Napa to focus on serving the local demand, improve efficiency and put an end to the false hope that can be perpetuated by keeping the list open.
“When I joined the Housing Authority staff, local veterans who were either a senior or disabled or had children in their family could get assistance in about six months to a year,” Ferrell, who came to the city a year ago, told the City Council, which serves on the Housing Authority board. “It’s now well over two years.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds the program, recommends local agencies close their waiting lists when the wait is longer than two years so as to prevent giving families false hope, Ferrell said. She said closing the list would also enable the housing authority to give those already on the list a better idea of when they might receive assistance.
Of the more than 9,600 households on the list as of Tuesday, 70 percent were out-of-county workers and residents, Ferrell said. In reality, they won’t get funding from Napa, as Napa gives preferential treatment to local residents and workers.
Because Section 8 is a nationally funded assistance program, the city must accept applicants regardless of where they work and live, but may give preference to locals.
“It’s unfortunate because it leaves people out there with an assumption that there are programs they can use when in reality they can’t,” Councilman Peter Mott said. “We’re sort of stuck with this situation that if we don’t play along with the game, we’re not going to get the funding we might otherwise.”
Napa is one of only three local housing authorities that has an open waiting list, so it has seen an influx of applications recently, Ferrell said.
“People are trying to get in whenever they can,” Ferrell said. “It’s causing a lot of administrative time for our staff to add people. We can’t turn anyone away whether they’re from out of town or local.”
Closing the wait list, which the housing authority plans to do at 5 p.m. on March 29, will largely free up the one-third of a staff position required to maintain it, Ferrell said. Some time will still be spent maintaining the list, which will be reopened when the locals on the list have received funding.
Ferrell said the city may be able to open the list to a target group lacking on the list, which in the future could be locals.
On average, each Section 8 recipients receive $712 toward monthly rent, Ferrell said. Prior to “sequestration” of the federal budget taking effect last week, the housing authority was issuing about 10 new vouchers each month thanks to turnover.
With the sequestration cuts, the housing authority will no longer issue new vouchers, regardless of how many families fall off the program. Last week, Ferrell reported the housing authority was expecting a 6 percent funding cut, which could force it to revoke 73 existing vouchers.
On Tuesday, she said staff are reviewing reserves to see if there is money that could lessen the impact.
Ferrell said 16 would-be Section 8 recipient households have already felt the impact of the automatic budget cuts. Those families and/or individuals were new recipients of Section 8 assistance who were looking for housing but had not yet signed leases for apartments. Their vouchers were revoked following sequestration.