Hundreds seek housing assistance at LS agency

rpulley@lsjournal.comAugust 28, 2014 

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    “A lot of people in Lee’s Summit don’t realize we have a lot of people who are homeless or on the edge of homelessness,” said Mary Conkling, chair of the authority’s board.

The Lee’s Summit Housing Authority recently “exhausted” its pool of applicants for rent assistance, so this week the agency began taking new applications for Section 8 vouchers.

Several hundred people waited Wednesday morning, Aug. 27, in a line curving down the street outside the office at Lea Haven on Grand Avenue to pick up forms. As applications are received, they’re marked with date and time received and then processed, so eligible people are added to a waiting list.

The Lee’s Summit Housing Authority administers vouchers for 649 households under the program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Darrin Taylor, executive director of the Lee’s Summit Housing Authority. The number of families it can assist varies with funding from Congress, he said.

Three housing authorities in Jackson County administer the Section 8 program: the Housing Authority of Kansas City, the Independence Housing Authority and the authority in Lee’s Summit. Each serves all of Jackson County, Taylor said.

In a separate federal program, the Lee’s Summit Housing Authority also runs two properties with 116 units of affordable housing open to elderly and disabled residents at Lea Haven and Duncan Estates. That program also has a waiting list.

Under the Section 8 program, people who receive vouchers find the property they want to rent, rather than living in a particular building. Landlords must agree to accept the vouchers and pass a quality housing inspection.

The vouchers allow residents to leave areas of poverty and find housing near good schools or in neighborhoods closer to work, Taylor said. The vouchers are based on income and family size.

A one-person household can have maximum of $24,500 in income. The maximum for an eight-person family is $46,150.

Lee’s Summit has been refreshing its waiting list about every four years.

Taylor said about a dozen households come off the list each month, so it’s possible the authority will be providing vouchers to a few of the new clients by October.

Taylor said most of the authority’s clients for Section 8 have jobs, but at lower wages, so there’s gradual turnover as they obtain higher-paying jobs.

“It’s hard for a family or individuals to break out of poverty without affordable housing,” he said. “It’s a steppingstone to getting ahead.”

The rent subsidy is based on a standard for a moderately-priced dwelling, with the recipient paying a share of the cost.

In recent years, housing built in Lee’s Summit has been designed and priced for upper-end markets.

“A lot of people in Lee’s Summit don’t realize we have a lot of people who are homeless or on the edge of homelessness,” said Mary Conkling, chair of the authority’s board.

Conkling said adequate housing for aging residents is becoming a problem, especially because the recession of 2007-2009 smashed the investments of many older people.

As a result, she said, they have been struggling to pay taxes or to maintain their houses. While stock prices recovered, she said, extremely low interest rates contiue to affect their incomes.

Taylor said local officials and residents can help by understanding the problem and asking Congress to provide support for affordable housing. He said funding has been falling for years.

“Without affordable housing, we’re only going to contribute to growing a homeless population and helplessness,” he said.

Anyone interested in getting on the waiting list can call 816-524-1100.

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