Montgomery County facing a waiting list of 15,600 for federally subsidized housing -- Gazette.Net


Corey Settles and his wife, Christina Settles, and their two little boys spent their first night in a Silver Spring bus shelter after being evicted on June 9 from their apartment in the Cider Mill complex in Montgomery Village.

They were getting ready to spend their second night at the Rockville Metro station when Nancy Piatt, Settles’ teacher at Medtech College in Silver Spring where he is taking a medical billing class, offered to pick them up at the Rockville station at 11 p.m. June 10.

Piatt called around and found them a room on her dime at the Travelodge motel in Silver Spring, where they stayed until Friday morning, when the county’s Health and Human Services Department gave them a voucher to stay temporarily at the Comfort Inn in Gaithersburg.

“I feel good, because at least I know where we’re going to be until the end of the month,” said Settles, 44, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and has worked at various jobs in hospitals in years past.

But the future is uncertain now for him and his family.

Settles, who is diabetic with a history of depression, recently lost his job with Walgreen’s where he worked as a cashier. His own family has told him he cannot stay with them, and Christina’s family is in Seattle. The boys are 19 months and 5 1/2 months old.

“Hopefully we can find a permanent place to go,” said Settles, whose family situation is not unique.

When the county’s three shelters for families and one shelter for victims of domestic violence are full, the county gives families vouchers for one of the three motels it contracts with to handle the overflow, said Sara Black, administrator of the Housing Stabilization Services section of the Montgomery County Department of Health & Human Services.

The four shelters can accommodate up to 41 families, but in the late spring, the three motels under contract often fill up with people going to graduations and proms, making rooms sometimes difficult to get for families, she said. The length of time in a motel granted through vouchers varies.

“We’re looking into increasing the capacity [with more motels] in Silver Spring and Gaithersburg,” Black said.

The Health and Human Services Department has other programs to help people avoid eviction and to provide cash and rental subsidies in an emergency.

But the programs do little to meet the enormous need for more affordable housing in Montgomery County and the Washington, D.C., region.

Settles said he was paying $1,050 a month for a one-bedroom apartment when he started falling behind in his rent last year.

When the lease ran out in November, management switched him to month-to-month lease and increased the rent to $1,359, he said.

Meanwhile, the federal Housing Choice (formerly known as Section 8) voucher program, has been closed down in the county since December 2008 “due to the sheer number of people who applied at the time,” said Stacy L. Spann, executive director of the county’s Housing Opportunities Commission, in an email.

“Right now, there are 15,590 households on the voucher list, consisting of all types of families, with and without children, including seniors, veterans and people with disabilities,” Spann said in the email.

“We simply don’t have the funding to serve all of those in need,” he said in the email. “Though the waiting list is still very long, we are evaluating the possibility of opening the waiting list again before the end of the year.”

Piatt said she had no idea that the demand for temporary and permanent housing was so great, especially among families.

“The lack of housing is shocking,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed by this. I have grandchildren, and this keeps me awake at night.”