Carol May's 14-month wait for a housing assistance certificate ended not a week too soon.
May picked up the certificate Sept. 19, three days after the single mother was informed that she and her 3-year-old son, Christopher, would have to move from the trailer they had lived in for 2 1/2 years because new ownership planned to convert their Finksburg trailer park to another use.
"I don't know what I would have done without it," said May, 26, who used her certificate to find a two-bedroom duplex in Taneytown. She pays $98 per month for rent and utilities. The federal Housing and Urban Development rent subsidy covers $449.
May applied for the Section 8 certificate with the Carroll County Bureau of Housing and Community Development in July 1990, before the recession deepened in Carroll. Her timing proved fortuitous. Those applying for a certificate today join about 575 other individuals and families, the longest waiting list the housing agency has ever maintained. Assistance varies based on the client's income.
Even the state-financed Rental Allowance Program, which provides temporary assistance for the homeless and those facing eviction, has become backlogged with applicants, said case manager Robert Wagner. Some applicants also are waiting for Section 8 certificates.
A year ago, the housing agency received about 30 applications per month for Section 8 certificates, said Colleen Baumgartner, program manager. This fall, the agency is receiving 40 to 45 applications per month, she said. In one recent week coinciding with a number of layoffs, the office received about 30 applications, she said.
"It's been very noticeable on a day-to-day basis," Baumgartner said of the increased demand. "People are losing jobs or having their hours reduced."
Incomes haven't kept pace with rent increases,she said. Many applicants are receiving other forms of government assistance.
About half on the waiting list are labeled "preference" and are given priority for certificates. Clients qualify as preference if they are spending 50 percent or more of their income on rent andutilities; are homeless or displaced; are living in substandard housing; or are elderly or disabled.
The wait for preference clients is six months to a year for one- and two-bedroom apartments, and between one year and 18 months for three-bedroom apartments, she said. Fornon-preference clients, the wait is more than two years for all sizes of families and apartments, she said.
The waiting list for the Rental Allowance Program, which provides a fixed subsidy for up to one year, has expanded from about 50 families in June to 135 now, said Wagner. Money is available to assist only about 40 to 50 families this fiscal year, he said. Families applying now likely face at least a one-year wait for assistance, he said.
"How can you help someone who has no place to live?" he asked. "It's just a paper shuffle.
"The wait gets longer and longer with each passing day. It gets more and more hopeless."
Some modest relief is forthcoming. The housing office expects to receive 22 new Section 8 certificates, valued at about $85,000 annually, within the next 45 days, said Baumgartner. A Section 8 certificate averages about $320 in rental assistance monthly.
But that will only make a dent.
"With the economy in shambles and government programs stretched to the limit, the only response mechanism we have is more support from the community at-large for non-profit organizations," said Karen Blandford, Carroll County Housing Coalition spokeswoman and Westminster's housing supervisor.
The needy will have more money for housing if the community increases contributions to agencies providing food, clothing, transportation and other services, said Blandford. Several county human services groups are coordinating efforts, she said.
Despite the rather bleak outlook, Blandford encourages anyone who needs help and might qualify for government housing programs to apply.
"Sometimes, by a quirk of circumstances, the wait is short," she said. "The waiting list changes."
The county currently has an allotment of about 380 certificates, excluding the new ones. About half of those are administered and distributedthrough the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments.
Westminster's Section 8 program can assist 231 families. It has a waiting list of about 250, with a typical wait of one to two years, Blandford said.
May, an Essex, Baltimore County native, planned to use a certificate to help pay rent to her mother, who owns the trailer. But now the trailer is for sale.
May, who is not employed, lives on $317 permonth in Aid to Families with Dependent Children, plus $203 per month in food stamps and monthly child support. She previously had jobs as a photographer and secretary, earning a top wage of $6.25 per hour,and received no government assistance.