WESTMINSTER - Paying the rent will be easier for 28 more Westminster families who will get federal housing subsidies now that the city has obtained more money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The subsidies amount to an estimated $882,240 over the next five years and will help two groups of people: those now in emergency shelters for the homeless, and those participating in Project Independence, a program designed to give welfare recipients job training and education.
Project Independence is a joint program co-sponsored by the Carroll Department of Social Services and the Job Training and Partnership program.
Both Project Independence and the housing subsidies are designed to help get people off welfare and into jobs, said Karen Blandford, city housing supervisor.
"The goal is to help people until they can become economically self-sufficient," Blandford said. "But the reality in Carroll County is that to become self-sufficient takes a lot of income (for housing)."
The 300 applicants on the Westminster list for HUD subsidies each wait between 1 and 2 years for aid, Blandford said. The city already provides 203 subsidies to 110 families and 93 elderly or disabled adults. The money for the 28 new subsidies includes enough for the city to hire a new part-time clerk to help administer the program, said Thomas Beyard, city planning director.
It isn't clear yet how the new subsidies will affect the waiting list, Blandford said, because half of the new subsidies are for Project Independence participants. The other half are for people currently homeless, such as those living in emergency shelters.
While this new money will alleviate the wait for at least 28 families, "we also see the need is growing," Blandford said. "All the indications are that services for low-income people are seeing a huge increase in demand over the summer and fall."
The HUD subsidies, called "Section 8," require that the recipient pay 30 percent of his or her income toward rent and utilities, with HUD paying the remaining cost up to a limit. The maximum HUD will allow for a two-bedroom apartment in Westminster is $547 for rent and utilities.
Blandford said that pairing the housing subsidies with Project Independence will give an extra boost to families trying to make it on their own.
"With the job training, their income will go up," she said.
As income rises, a family pays a higher percentage of the rent and can eventually go off the subsidy program, making room for another family.
Blandford said clients sufficiently increased their income through Project Independence to pay a higher share of their rent, saving the city $50,000 in subsidy money in the past year.
This is the first time in at least four years that Westminster has received any increase in subsidies, Blandford said.
Although she applied for money for 40 families, she expected to get only enough for 20 and was pleased to get the 28, she said.
In the meantime, Blandford said, her office is now trying to purge the waiting list of families no longer needing the subsidy or who have moved away.
She recently sent letters to all 300 names on the list, telling them to write or call within 30 days to remain on the list. Also, she said, her office will investigate more vigorously to make sure people getting the subsidies aren't abusing the program by earning more than they report.