Immediately after LaTweeta Smyers, the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority's Director of the Housing Choice Voucher Program, arrived in Cleveland in 2014, she set in motion the lottery process that granted 10,000 lucky low-income residents a spot on the program's waiting list.
Being on the waiting list means being next in line for a housing voucher, the coveted subsidy that provides assistance for low-income renters on the private market. At a brown-bag housing forum Wednesday at CSU's Levin College of Urban Affairs, vouchers were variously referred to as a "golden ticket" for low-income renters and the "Cadillac" of housing subsidies. In 2015, when the 10,000 tenants were selected
for the waiting list, 55,000 applicants had applied.
At yesterday's forum, hosted by the Ohio Fair Lending Coalition, Director Smyers said that the number on the waiting list has been dramatically reduced, and she intends to re-open the waiting list in as early as a "couple weeks."
This is big news for the region. A 2016 study found that nearly 75 percent of all voucher waiting lists nationwide are currently closed. There are nine housing authorities
in Ohio, however, with waiting lists that are open indefinitely.
There are 15,283 people who receive vouchers through CMHA currently. About 50-60 families, Smyers said in her presentation, are terminated from the program each month. Of the 10,000 lottery winners from 2015, only 1,059 remain.
That's not because the majority of them have received vouchers, though. Smyers said that so many slots have opened up because of low response rates. Most of the people on the waiting list, Smyers said, are either permanently homeless or couch-surfing with friends and relatives. It makes tracking them down difficult.
"We are required to send two letters," Smyers said. "But if I send a letter to the address you provided in 2015, you're not there anymore. The person whose couch you were sleeping on said, 'hey, you've gotta go.' And if I send a letter there, they're not gonna tell [the person on the waiting list.] And they're not going to send us a letter to notify us that they've moved, either. That's why we have a 60-percent no-show rate off the waiting list. There is a great need, but the housing is not consistent enough for them to be able to get the voucher."
In an email to Scene after the forum, Smyers said she and her staff were still "working out logistics" for re-opening the waiting list. But the official announcement should be coming soon.
The voucher program is still often known as the "Section 8" program, in reference to the relevant section of the 1937 Housing Act. The voucher program was created in 1974, and modified to its current form, emphasizing housing choice, in 1993. CMHA was established in 1933 as the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority, and was the first public housing authority in the country.
For more information and context, you can read Scene's feature story
from February on barriers faced by participants in the Housing Choice Voucher Program.