At 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jasmine Gorritz arrived at the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority, prepared to wait 41⁄2 hours to be one of the first to add her name to the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program waiting list.
There were already 181 people in line ahead of her.
“The line was literally wrapping around the whole parking lot. There was these people that I know that were there from 8 o’clock the night before waiting on line to be one of the first ones there,” she said.
At a glance
• The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program provides subsidized housing for individuals and families with very low incomes.
• Tenants pay about 30 percent of their gross income toward rent in privately owned buildings and federal funding makes up the difference. To qualify, a family of four can earn no more than $38,850 annually.
• Applications are accepted at the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority, 375 Broadway, through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Because of a backlog of applicants, Tuesday was the first time since October 2010 that anyone has been allowed to submit his or her name to Schenectady’s Section 8 waiting list.
Applications will be accepted at the housing authority at 375 Broadway through Friday.
Once a name has been added to the Section 8 waiting list, applicants begin a second round of waiting — this time for years — before one of the city’s 1,386 subsidized apartments can be secured.
During a typical four-day Section 8 waiting list enrollment period, close to 2,000 applications come in, according to Richard Homenick, executive director of the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority.
“This year there just seem to be a lot more people here than there were three years ago,” he said.
As the sun came up Tuesday morning, the line of applicants stretched to about 250, said Tyrone Anderson, who arrived at 6:45 a.m. but decided to come back later in hopes that the line would be shorter.
By about 10 a.m., the parking lot still held more than 200 people, with about 100 more waiting inside.
“We do what we can to make people comfortable here. The first thing we do is pray for good weather,” said Homenick.
In anticipation of long lines, a portable toilet was brought in, stanchions were set up and police were hired for crowd control.
The hourslong wait could be averted if year-round waiting list registration were offered, but that idea was ruled out in an effort to reign in the amount of time it takes for applicants to secure housing.
“People apply today, probably some of them won’t be housed for three years, four years, five years,” Homenick said. “If we kept the list open and they kept applying, their opportunity for housing would be 10, 15, 20 years out.”
Schenectady’s $9 million Section 8 program has weathered a series of budget cuts over the past three years, which has resulted in layoffs and even longer waits for applicants.
“We’re receiving 69 cents on the dollar of what we should receive to manage the program under Congress’ definition of what is required to manage the program,” Homenick said. “There are Section 8 programs around the country now that are starting to turn in their commitment to the government, turn the program over to the states, because they can’t afford it anymore.”
Gorritz moved to Schenectady from New York City because she said she couldn’t get housing assistance there. She has also tried Connecticut with no luck.
“This was the only place that has offered the help,” she said.
In addition to Section 8 housing, low-income Schenectady residents have access to public housing owned by the housing authority, but the 1,000 residences in Ten Eyck Apartments, Schonowee Village and Lincoln Heights are full, and there’s an extensive waiting list for them.
Those in line at the housing authority Tuesday morning seemed resigned to wait.
Claude Nevels was leaning heavily on his cane after 21⁄2 hours on his feet. “I’m all used up. I’m on grace now,” he said.
Despite his weariness, he had good things to say about the housing authority.
“They’re very good at it, considering all the dimensions they have to deal with, all kinds of situations, circumstances,” he said. “They’re effective — that’s the bottom line.”
Mary Carr of Schenectady was grateful to find a chair near the front of the line. She sat down heavily, after more than two hours of waiting, two empty coffee mugs in hand.
Carr signed up for the Section 8 waiting list four years ago and was hoping to find out how far she has progressed on the list.
Although she has endured years of waiting, she had praise for Section 8.
“It’s a wonderful thing to have,” she said.
Anderson returned to the line shortly before 11 a.m. and was pleased to see it was a bit shorter.
“It will be well worth the wait if they can help,” he said, eyeing the restless crowd shuffling between the stanchions.