(KMOV.com) - More than 27,000 people in St. Louis are asking the taxpayers to cover all or some of their rent. Some receive up to $1,200 a month via a Section 8 voucher, but far more get nothing.
For nine months, News 4's Chris Nagus followed a single mother who's tried to get a coveted Section 8 voucher. In many ways the system resembles a lottery: with winners and a lot of losers.
In July, Nagus met Natasha Williams in her mother's basement, where she lives with her three young children. They sleep on the floor surrounded by their clothes.
“It's very devastating, very stressful,” Williams said about her situation.
On the morning of July 16, Nagus went with Williams to the St. Louis Housing Authority, where for the first time in seven years, St. Louis City accepted new applications for Section 8 vouchers. In St. Louis alone, the federal program covers $45 million worth of rent payments each year.
Williams has been through this before.
At one point she received a Section 8 voucher for $870 a month which she used to rent a North St. Louis house, but was later kicked off the program. According to documentation from the Housing Authority, Williams failed to keep the utilities turned on. That's something Williams disputes. Now she is trying to get back in the program.
Williams described the re-enrollment process as “difficult.”
Cheryl Lovell, the Executive Director of the St. Louis Housing Authority describes the need in St. Louis as “overwhelming.”
Lovell said more than 27,000 people signed up for Section 8 housing the same week as Williams.
“It's a very large number the last time we opened it 7 years ago we got 8 thousand applications,” Lovell said.
Lovell told News 4 working through the list will take years.
News 4 continued to follow Williams through the application process. As summer faded to fall, Williams still had no voucher, no job, and no prospects. She remained in her mother's basement. By December she felt desperation, but with a glimmer of hope; she got a part time job at Family Dollar.
“I have a job now, things are looking up (but) … it's not (enough) I only bring $160 something a week,” said Williams.
“If we had more resources we would provide more housing but we don't,” Lovell said.
Lovell said applicants are ranked and points are assessed for those who are homeless, with no family, disabled, or victims of domestic violence. She told News 4 it's not uncommon for applicants to check boxes that don't apply. The Housing Authority must go through every one of them.
“It will be years but we will go through the 27,000 on the list and we won't start a new list until then,” said Lovell.
Once someone is accepted onto Section 8, there is no time limit, many remain on the program for life. Residents are supposed to pay 30 percent of the rent on their own, but if there's no income, the entire rent can be covered.
Of the 27,000 people who applied for Section 8 in July, so far only four of them filled out the application correctly. Everyone else remains on the long waiting list.