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Local housing authority to receive emergency rental vouchers for Section 8 housing in July

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Kelso Housing Authority opens wait list

Kelso Housing Authority Executive Director Joleen Reece, second from the left, addresses the line of people waiting outside the building to submit applications for the public housing wait list in 2019.

Section 8 housing vouchers — which are typically only available for brief windows every few years — will be accessed by more local residents this summer thanks to federal pandemic relief aid.

A local housing authority called Housing Opportunities of Southwest Washington will receive 42 emergency housing vouchers for $300,684 to dispense after July 1.

Executive Director Jennifer Westerman said these emergency vouchers aim to “head off what people expect to be an increase in homelessness because of COVID.”

Emergency vouchers

The organization last opened traditional voucher applications in 2018 for two days and received about 1,000 applications, according to Housing Assistance Program Manager Vickie Rhodes.

The 42 emergency vouchers are a bonus to the average 1,530 vouchers contracted with the organization annually through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Housing vouchers provide credit for qualifying low-income individuals to subsidize rentals. Typically, people apply for vouchers and can use them based on their location. The emergency vouchers allow homeless people, or those at risk of becoming homeless, to use the credits across the country.

The emergency vouchers will be distributed based on referrals from organizations that use a national standardized process called “coordinated entry” to house people in need.

Cowlitz County Health and Human Services Deputy Director Gena James said 270 people are interested in housing through coordinated entry. Those on this list could be referred to receive emergency housing vouchers, she said.

The Housing Opportunities of Southwest Washington covers Wahkiakum, Lewis, Pacific and Cowlitz counties, except for Kelso and Kalama, which are included in the Kelso Housing Authority. The Kelso Housing Authority could not be reached to confirm if it also will distribute emergency housing vouchers.

A 2019 report by The Daily News said the Kelso Housing Authority also opened voucher applications in 2018 for only two days.

Kelso Housing Authority flooded with applicants after opening wait list

The emergency voucher allocation comes from a total of 70,000 vouchers for $5 million through the American Rescue Plan, according to HUD. The American Rescue Plan was signed by President Joe Biden in March 2021.

Wait times

According to Rhodes, 231 people are on the Housing Opportunities of Southwest Washington’s waiting list for traditional vouchers. People on the traditional waitlist cannot receive emergency vouchers.

On average, Rhodes said it takes about 98 days for a homeless person to find a location to use vouchers distributed by the organization and 67 days for people who are not homeless.

Westerman said the wait times are similar to other nearby housing authorities. She attributed the delays to the area’s tight rental market, as well as housing barriers for low-income renters such as bad credit, a lack of rental history or funds for rental deposits.

“There is a national housing crisis,” Westerman said. “It’s just a little more visible here and California because this is where people want to live.”

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