Next month, 7,500 Minnesota low-income residents will be allowed to join the wait for federal rent assistance.
For the first time, the three largest public housing agencies in the state — Metropolitan Council's Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Minneapolis Public Housing Authority and St. Paul Public Housing Agency — are simultaneously opening their waiting lists for Section 8 housing vouchers.
With dwindling waiting lists, the three agencies are making a joint push for people to sign up online between June 12 and June 18.
The waiting list for the coveted vouchers is notorious for leaving people in limbo for years. A chance to get on the waiting list — even if there will be just 7,500 slots available across the Twin Cities — is expected to attract thousands of applicants looking for a reprieve from rising rents.
Terri Smith, director of the Met Council authority, said that the agency has found success in a lottery-style waiting list.
The agency has been able to open its list every two to three years using this method and will select 2,000 people in a lottery to join the list. But this time, Smith said, they're hoping to reach even more families by collaborating with the two other public housing agencies.
"The worry comes back to we know the demand far exceeds the resources that are available," Smith said.
Getting on the list is just the beginning. If prospective tenants receive a voucher, they have only months to find a landlord willing to take it or else it's given to the next person in line. Housing advocates and property owners have long debated whether landlords should be required to accept Section 8 voucher holders.
During the sign-up period, people can use the public housing agency websites to join all three waiting lists separately to increase their chances of success. All three agencies said the applications will be available in different languages, with help available to fill it out.
In Minneapolis, it will be the first time in 11 years that the city's public housing authority has opened its waiting list and used a lottery for voucher applicants. During the last sign-up period, the agency saw 16,000 people apply in three days. The agency is planning to assist the 503 people still on the voucher waiting list as of March before pulling from the new one.
Minneapolis housing officials are optimistic that moving to a lottery system will allow the agency to open the list more often, said Jeff Horwich, director of policy and external affairs for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.
"Because of the difficulty of tracking people down or people concerned they're not on the list and checking in, it's just a much more manageable approach," Horwich said.
That's exactly what happened when the St. Paul Public Housing Agency opened its voucher waiting list in 2015 and used a lottery for the first time. The agency had 12,000 people sign up for the list but only took 3,500 names. Agency workers were able to get through the list more efficiently and found they had an easier time getting in touch with people, said Louise Seeba, deputy executive director and general counsel for the St. Paul Public Housing Agency.
"It's worked great," Seeba said. "We didn't have a waiting list that was closed for 15 years. We had a waiting list that we worked through in four years."