Demand for public housing in Macon climbs

This week Candoshia Robinson toured her new apartment in public housing.

She has been staying with her mother. But after asking the Macon Housing Authority in February for a place to live, she recently learned that a two-bedroom apartment had opened up for her and her 5-month-old son Keith. The accommodations are not the most luxurious, but they are clean. And that is enough.

“I want to move in as soon as I can,” she said.

Robinson may be among the lucky. Demand for public housing has grown steadily over the past several years, and for some, the current economic downturn has made the need even more pressing. Fewer people can afford to move out, and more people have a need to move in.

Nearly 3,500 applicants are waiting for the housing authority to grant them space in public housing. Many have been waiting for a few years, some for five years or more, officials said.

After today, the authority will stop taking new applications for public housing as it begins to retool its process for ranking candidates. Although the authority will continue to move people off of the waiting lists and into housing, for the next few months no new names will be added. The authority has done this only a handful of times in its existence.

“When the pipeline gets a little shorter, then we’ll open it back up again,” said John Hiscox, the authority’s executive director. He said that should occur sometime before Labor Day.

Meanwhile, the authority can shave some administrative costs and allow staff to temporarily focus on a different task: adding new qualifications that housing applicants can turn to for preferential consideration, some of which are designed to reflect current economic conditions.

The authority will soon take into account whether applicants for public housing are retired, on workers’ compensation, on medical leave, earning unemployment benefits or receiving child support. While the list is closed, officials will give those currently waiting a chance to register under the new preferences and will purge the names of those people who can no longer be found.

The new preferences are being added to qualifications currently used to prioritize applicants. The elderly or disabled will continue to get the first opportunity for housing, followed by those who have been working for more than three months, those who have been working less than three months, those living on welfare and everybody else.

“We’re giving people more options now,” said Laurie Futch Chapman, chief of eligibility for the authority.

Aside from those priorities, officials said a person’s time spent on the waiting list generally depends on the type of living space they request or are eligible for. For example, more than 1,200 people are waiting for a one-bedroom apartment. Meanwhile, only 250 are waiting for a four-bedroom apartment.

The closed wait-lists apply to public housing properties only — places such as Tindall Heights, Pendleton Homes or Anthony Homes, among others. Newer mixed-income residences the authority has developed, such as Tattnall Place or the Vineville Senior Community, are managed privately and have a separate application process.

Section 8 vouchers, which provide money to low-income tenants to rent housing from private landlords, have their own wait-list. It is closed most of the time but will probably open for a few days sometime this summer, Hiscox said.

Arenitra Eason, a 34-year-old mother of three sons, said she missed her shot at a voucher when she moved after joining the Section 8 waiting list in 2004 and forgot to send the authority her new address. Eason, who works a night shift at The Medical Center of Central Georgia’s Wellness Center, currently lives in public housing in Anthony Homes. She waited only a couple of months in 2006 to get her spot in public housing, and said she feels blessed to have somewhere to stay.

But now, she said, her 11-, 14- and 15-year-old sons are starting to outgrow the space. “My boys are so big, I just want to stop bumping into them in the hallway,” she said.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.