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Miami Herald - March 18, 2001
AFFORDABLE HOUSING CRISIS: OPENING OF SECTION 8 APPLICATIONS DRAW HUGE CROWDS
BY Jacqueline Charles
Hundreds of Miami-Dade residents flooded county offices Monday for the chance to
apply for affordable housing -- the first time in at least six years that the county
has opened up its waiting list.
``I've been waiting for affordable housing on and off for 18 years,'' said Andrea
McDowell, 43, a Liberty City mother of four. ``And I haven't gotten it yet. I need
The crush of applicants underscores the need for low-price housing in Miami-Dade
County, a problem affecting thousands of South Florida families, including the working
poor and homeless. The county's housing agency hasn't accepted applications for
any of its 10,000 public-housing units since 1995. It hasn't issued federal rental
vouchers, commonly referred to as Section 8, since 1989.
Unlike the public-housing units, which are located in developments, the Section
8 vouchers provide residents with more flexibility and allow them to seek housing
from private landlords. Depending on the person's income, the federal government
either pays a portion of the rent or all of it.
About 16,000 people receive vouchers in Miami-Dade.
``I'll take anything,'' said Margarita Cólon, 66, who went Monday to the
housing agency's Allapattah leasing center on Northwest 18th Avenue and 29th Street.
Cólon said more than half of the $530 she receives in monthly Social Security
and disability benefits goes to pay rent on an efficiency in Allapattah.
``I can't afford that along with the telephone and electricity bill,'' she said.
While applications are available in English, Spanish, Creole and Braille at 60
locations throughout the county, including at all county regional and branch libraries,
Team Metro Offices and agency offices, the Allapattah site was one of the busiest.
More than 300 people gathered at the center -- some as early as 6 a.m. -- to demand
a form. After workers ran out of applications, a pushing match ensued and the police
had to be called. No one was hurt.
Sherra McLeod, spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, said about 100,000
applications have been printed. They will be distributed until March 30. Applications
must be postmarked by that date for residents to be considered.
Submitting an application only guarantees a spot on the county's waiting list.
``Once we get the application, we will determine by lottery how the priority will
be,'' said McLeod, who did not know how many units were available.
Once a person is picked, housing officials will review the applications to see
who meets income criteria for the program. To qualify, an individual can earn no
more than $25,000. A family of eight can earn no more than $47,100.
Hilda Fernandez, executive director of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, which
runs the county's homeless program, said there is ``a huge, huge need in our community''
for affordable housing.
``We have all of these programs to help people become self sufficient, but if they
cannot afford a place to live, they cannot survive in the community,'' she said.
While some private affordable housing units have been made available in recent
years, they are not enough, Fernandez said. She cited a 1998 county report which
says Dade needs an additional 144,000 affordable housing units and 86,000 more units
by the year 2016.
``It's enough of an issue that the South Florida Regional Planning Council, which
normally deals with growth, transportation and economic development, held a one-day
special housing summit last month,'' Fernandez said.