The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

June 7, 2009

Rent aid waiting lists closed

Agencies say it will take years to work through names

MANKATO — For low-income people in the Mankato area who are struggling to make their rent, there’s virtually no hope for assistance from government vouchers.

That fact has become official in the past month as area housing agencies have closed their waiting lists for people seeking rental assistance. The lists were getting so long, and openings for actual vouchers were coming so infrequently, that housing officials felt it only gave false hope to add new applicants.

“It could be three to five years. We just don’t know,” said Peggy Wiese, the executive director of the South Central Minnesota Multi-County HRA. “... Right now it’s well over a year.”

Her agency — which serves the counties of Nicollet, Sibley, Waseca, Watonwan and Martin — shut down the list last week. At that point, it contained 625 names of people waiting for help. The agency has funding for about 610 rental vouchers, which average just over $300 a month. So even if every person currently receiving help suddenly dropped from the program, the waiting list still wouldn’t be emptied.

And the reality is that almost nobody is dropping out.

“We’re getting the same amount of people who would like to apply as we always have,” said Patti Ziegler, the housing coordinator for the Mankato Economic Development Authority. “The difference is no one is giving their voucher up.”

In better economic times, people would drop from the program because they moved away, saw their income rise to the point they were no longer eligible, or found a new housing arrangement with friends or relatives. These days, people are apparently hunkering down rather than moving to new cities, and they’re not seeing their economic fortunes rising.

In the past, about 10 people would leave the program each month, Ziegler said. In the midst of what’s considered the worst economic times since the Great Depression, that’s changed dramatically. Basically no one has dropped their voucher since January.

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