The Free Press, Mankato, MN

No Direction Home

December 15, 2013

No Direction Home, Day 2: For homeless, housing help hard to come by

Housing voucher program closed in Mankato

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How difficult is it for people with low or no income to get help with housing in Mankato?

Consider this: The city’s housing coordinator said they don’t even take names for the waiting list anymore for the Housing Choice Voucher Program or what used to be known as Section 8.

The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has helped millions of people since its inception in 1937. But in recent years, funding has decreased.

Mankato is approved for 425 vouchers, but because the program’s funding has been scaled back, the city is only working with 406 vouchers.

Making matters worse was the federal funding sequester (the automatic across-the-board spending cuts that went into effect March 1). Because of the sequester, the Housing Choice Voucher Program is operating on 94 percent of what they had in 2012.

“HUD gives us a dollar amount and says help as many as you can but don’t go over your limit,” said Patti Ziegler, the city of Mankato’s housing coordinator. “Funding has been stagnant, but rent is going up.”

Ziegler is right about the rent.

Minnesota’s median rents remained relatively constant for the past 10 years, according to the website Department of Numbers (which is not a government website). Mankato, however, has seen rents rise. In 2005, the median rent in Mankato was $635. In 2012 it was $708. (Median rent spiked in 2010 at $756.)

Nationally, the number of families using Housing Choice Vouchers is up 6 percent, or 110,000, since 2005. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the additional families served accounts for $1 billion of the $3.6 billion increase in the program from 2005 to 2011. If the sequester cuts continue into 2014, the center estimates, as many as 185,000 low-income families will lose assistance by the end of next year, according to the organization.

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