Hundreds wait for Public Housing

There are 366 applicants for public housing on waiting lists in the city of La Crosse, including individuals and families, and they face uncertainty about when they might be able to secure a unit.

The number is the most recent available from the La Crosse Housing Authority. It includes 29 who are on a waiting list for Section 8 vouchers that is currently closed, according to Steve Schauf, La Crosse Housing Authority Executive Director.

At present, Schauf said the housing authority is offering available units to those who applied in March. Applicants for one of the authority’s 931 housing units (including vouchers) are usually told they face a wait of between six months and a year before they have an opportunity to receive housing, Schauf added.

Section 8 is a voucher program that subsidizes rent for private housing for low-income individuals and families. Due to low turnover in Section 8 units in La Crosse, Schauf said the authority closed the local waiting list for the program. 

“Not many people vacate this program and we don’t want to give false hope to anyone by having them apply and be on the waiting list for extended periods of time,” he said.

The housing authority is close to finalizing its five-year capital plan, which includes various proposed upgrades to existing public housing in La Crosse but no plans for new units. But Schauf said the authority may be able to secure funding that would allow it to increase the number of housing vouchers it can offer. In response to covid-19, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently made $150 million available for “mainstream” vouchers, which serve households that include non-elderly individuals with disabilities. 

“We do not currently have the mainstream voucher program, but want to investigate,” Schauf said.

In March, there were 207 people on the waiting list for high rise and family projects public housing in La Crosse, according to the housing authority. That number increased to 369 in June, and then fell to 284 last month. Those numbers don’t include applicants for voucher and new construction (Forest Park and Ping Manor) housing, which bring the total number on the authority’s waiting lists to 366 for September.

The La Crosse Housing Authority launched an online application process in February, which Schauf said has made it easier to apply for public housing.

“This is a big reason why we are working off of the March 2020 applications when offering as we received increased interest during this time,” Schauf said. “I will admit that this was a huge undertaking by Housing Authority staff, but it helped remove some of the barriers applicants were experiencing.”

Waiting lists for public housing in La Crosse. Courtesy of La Crosse Housing Authority.

The 366 applicants on waiting lists for public housing in La Crosse do not include any who may be on waiting lists at the separate La Crosse County Housing Authority, which has 294 housing units spread across Holmen, Onalaska, West Salem, Bangor, Mindoro and on French Island.

A housing study released by the city of La Crosse last year found that 35% of white households and 76% of Black households in La Crosse faced housing problems, including overcrowding, lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities, or spending more than 30% of their household income on rent. 

The same report found that to “afford a one-bedroom rental unit at the La Crosse County Fair Market Rent (FMR) of $596 without being cost burdened (i.e., spending more than 30% of income on housing) would require an annual income of at least $23,840. This amount translates to a 40-hour work week at an hourly wage of $11, or a 63-hour work week at the minimum wage of $7.25.” A two-bed apartment, at the fair market rate of $793 a month, would require someone to work 84 hours a week on minimum wage without being cost burdened, the report added.

*A public hearing on the La Crosse Housing Authority’s five-year plan (2021-2025), five-year capital plan, and 2021 annual plan, is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct.14, at 1:30 p.m. at Ping Manor, 1311 Badger Street, La Crosse.

By Eric Timmons. Email questions to Top image shows the Schuh/Mullen Homes Community Center in La Crosse.

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