On August 4th 2015 the Dane County Housing Authority opened its Section 8 Wait List for the first time since 2007. The list has been closed for so long because in 2007 it was opened for two months and in that time over 5,000 families applied. The applications were delivered in sacks by the Postal Service and it took staff weeks to enter all the applications. With limited financial assistance from HUD, it took almost eight years to serve them all.
Recently other areas of Wisconsin had Section 8 Wait lists open to people lined up around the block waiting for hours to have their applications date and time stamped, or allowed thousands of people to enter a lottery for a chance to be placed on the list, knowing only a fraction would get that chance. I was determined that when the DCHA opened our list things would be different.
To that end we implemented an on-line application process that allowed people to apply from home, the library, their local senior center and even their smart phone. There were no lines at our office (although there were lines at the Tenant Resource Center, the Job Center and at other service providers), there was no lottery, but we decided that the Wait list should close once we had received enough applications that we could reasonably serve in 1-2 years, or about 1,500 applications. We had no idea how long it would take to get to that number but there were estimates from as little 12 hours to 2 days to a month. In the end we reached 1,500 applications in 90 minutes.
There were some technical difficulties along the way; we learned that Firefox was not compatible with the application software and that the acceptable format for a phone number when applying on a smart phone was different that the acceptable format when using a computer. Based on the early complications we decided to leave the wait list open until all support message calls were returned, and closed the list at 2:39 PM just 4 hours and 39 minutes after it opened,
In the end we received 2,212 applications; more than we had planned on but less than half the number we accepted the back in 2007. Hopefully this means the families that applied today will receive assistance in a more timely fashion, and the wait for the chance to apply will not be so long. Whats more, a lot of them were able to apply without leaving home.
The other nice aspect of an on-line application is the immediate availability of data. If you read my post “Dispelling the Myth” you will know that I am a big fan of statistics and could not wait to find out who had applied for our program. So here are some numbers and let’s start with…
- 2,212 applications in 4:30 – that is 8 applications per minute
- 1,322 in the first hour alone – that 21 per minute for the first hour
- 2,212 applications covering 4,865 total family members
- Of those family members 2,351 are children
- 1,736 applications have female Heads of Household or 78.5% of the total
- 314 (14%) of the applications have Heads of Household who are 55+ years of age
- 1,476 (66.7%) applicants report living, working or attending school in Dane County
- 727 (32.8%) report being homeless
- 1,178 (53.2%) report being rent burdened- meaning they pay more than 40% of their income in rent and utilities
- 332 (15%) report living in substandard housing
- Applications were received from 20 states and the District of Columbia
- 1,325 (59.9%) applications were received from Madison
- 1,936 (87.5%) applications were received from Wisconsin
- 163 (7.3%) applications were received from Chicago, which for the record is similar to…
- 161 (7.2%) applications were received from Sun Prairie
How (or How Much)
- 834 (37.7%) of applicant households make at least $15,000 per year
- 405 (18.3%) of applicant households make between $10,000 and $14,999 per year
- 428 (19.3%) of applicant households make between $5,000 and $9,999 per year
- and of the total- 1,667 (75.3%) of applicant households make $5,000 or more per year
- Only 278 (12.5%) reported no household income
A wise man once told me there are lies, damn lies and statistics but I don’t hold that against my father, and I understand that numbers can be manipulated to tell a narrative. However I do think that there are some things to take away from this analysis:
- There is a great demand for affordable housing in our community and we need to do more to address the issue
- Poverty and Homelessness is a pressing issue in Dane County
- The families seeking assistance by and large are our neighbors and do not deserve to be demonized or shamed as “others seeking to take advantage of our tax dollars”
- The families seeking assistance are the working poor who need help affording housing and are not “people who are unwilling to work”
I hope that we as a community can continue the efforts shown by both the City of Madison and Dane County to address the affordable housing gap in our communities and do so in a way that is civil to one another, responsible with the resources we all contribute to the common good and compassionate to those in need.