SANTA MARIA, Calif. - For the first time in nine years, Santa Barbara County is accepting new applications for the federal government program called Housing Choice Voucher, which is better known as Section 8.
“The big new is we're opening our Section 8 waiting list,” said Bob Havilcek, Housing Authority of the County of Santa Barbara executive director. “It's been closed since 2009, so the significance is that it's financial assistance for rent.”
On Monday, starting at 8 a.m., the registration period opened up. Across the county at various locations, people lined up to sign-up and earn a place on the waiting list.
"It was a whirlwind,” said Good Samaritan shelter director Kirsten Cahoon. “ Usually our clients are out at 8 o'clock, so we had everyone stay in today and forming lines. Every employee that had access to a computer or an iPhone was on-site today signing everybody up."
Throughout the day, Good Samaritan helped many of their clients register online. One of those who was eager to sign-up for Section 8 assistance was Alizabeth Martinez.
The Santa Maria native said she's been homeless since she was seven-year-old.
“ I never had a place of my own." said Martinez, who is expecting a baby in August. "It's like a lifesaver, something that I've never had. Something that I want for my own kids, to be settled and have a family and be happy."
Recipients of Section 8 assistance typically pay 30 percent of their monthly income towards rent. The government subsidizes the remaining 70 percent.
"The people that we serve in this program have the deepest needs in the community, so we're serving seniors, disabled, families, formerly homeless,” said Havlicek.
Havlicek added the Housing Authority is hoping to attract more housing options for Section 8 recipients.
"There is a great need for landlords to participate in the program,” said Havlicek. We're actively engaging landlords to participate in the program. They can even sign-up for direct deposit, which means the portion of the rent that the voucher is paying can be automatically deposited into their account, so it's a very streamlined process in terms of payment."
According to Havlicek, funding for Section was a bit unexpected. He said program in the county has been decreasing through the years and was expected to continue.
However, added budget for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allowed the county to add new recipients.
“If we're fortunate, we'll be able to issue vouchers and serve an additional 300, 400, maybe even 500 families,” said Havlicek. “The first step is to get on the waiting list.”
Those who do register will be selected based on a preference points system. Applicants that are local residents, who are veterans, homeless or displaced by a government action, for example, will receive higher priority.
The deadline to apply is Tuesday, May 29 at 2 p.m.
The window to apply in San Luis Obispo County begins Friday, May 11 at 9 a.m. and ends Wednesday, May 16 at 4 p.m.
For more information in Santa Barbara County, visit the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Barbara website at ww2.hasbarco.org
For more information in San Luis Obispo County, visit the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo website www.haslo.org