McCOOK, Nebraska -- With wait time for housing assistance increasing and the closing of two apartment buildings compounding the problem, the East Ward Village project will provide much-needed housing when it is completed in the spring of 2012.
City staff filed an application for a $252,000 grant on behalf of the McCook Housing Agency, which was presented to the City Council Monday evening and represents the final funding piece for the $4,132,030 project. The construction project, projected to start in April 2011 at the East Ward School building lot, will develop 27 total units targeted primarily at seniors, aged 55 years and older.
"As 2010 progressed, we found that our waiting lists were growing longer and longer; now the wait for a Housing Choice Voucher is over a year, and those applying now may wait even longer than that," said Rebecca Dutcher, Executive Director for the McCook Housing Agency.
The housing crisis in McCook escalated with the closing of St. Catherine's apartments and its 22 units in February 2010. Combined with the closing of the eight unit Kenneth Spencer apartment building, purchased by the county and set to be demolished, a total of 30 families were left without housing, Dutcher said.
"The McCook Housing Agency board of Commissioners was already in the process of developing additional housing in McCook to meet some of these needs as we had recognized through our programs that finding a suitable unit, that was available and within budget restraints of the prospective tenant, was getting harder and harder to find. When the two apartment buildings closed we stepped up our efforts," said Dutcher.
"While the waiting list for our onsite apartments remains fairly steady the wait time is still fairly long, for a two bedroom unit it is probably over a year and the wait for a one bedroom unit is about 6 months, said Dutcher, who added "those families needing a three bedroom unit would be in luck right now as we actually have a unit that is available and no one on the waiting list."
Housing agency staff is often limited to making an educated guess, regarding wait time, as they are restricted to waiting for someone to move out or to move off the program, before assistance can be offered to new individuals.
Currently the housing authority houses 135 families, of those, 82 live in onsite units and 53 have housing choice vouchers. "We have seven market rate tenants of the 135, those are tenants who live onsite in an apartment that receives no subsidy, the remaining 128 receive help paying their rent and/or utilities," said Dutcher. Currently the housing agency has 133 individuals and families on their waiting list for assistance.
"Most folks don't realize the important part a housing authority plays in their community or how housing authorities were developed," said Dutcher, who explained that the United States Housing Act of 1937 was the originator of the development of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which led to the development of housing authorities. "The McCook Housing Agency is one of the largest, if not the largest, landlord in the area and pumps over $160,000 into the economy each year through payments to private landlords who participate with the Housing Choice Voucher Program and most of those landlords live in Southwest Nebraska. Additional funds received from contracts with the Department of Housing and Urban Development provide subsidies to tenants who are unable to afford to pay their rent in the units we own, the Capital Fund Program provides for the capital improvements of Public Housing Units and operating subsidies help pay the day to day operations of the housing authority," said Dutcher.
Dutcher explained that the total amount of funding brought into the area by the housing authority tops one million dollars, annually. "It is the mission of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and therefore the mission of the McCook Housing Agency to promote adequate and affordable housing, economic opportunity and a suitable living environment free from discrimination," said Dutcher.