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Housing authority feels money crunch in long-term plans

DALLAS -- Need for low-income housing has nearly doubled in Polk County since 2008, according to the West Valley Housing Authority.

DALLAS -- Need for low-income housing has nearly doubled in Polk County since 2008, according to the West Valley Housing Authority.

With no additional funding on the horizon, WVHA plans to deal with the need revolves around efficient management rather than expansion.

"We know that we have to streamline as much as possible to do the most efficient job we can," Executive Director Linda Jennings said.

The agency's board of directors just approved its long-term and annual plans, which include upgrades to complexes, most of them built in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

WVHA is funded through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and rent from clients. Those revenues pay for operations in housing complexes and units the agency owns. Separate HUD funding pays for a rental assistance program in which WVHA subsidizes rent for clients leasing from landlords.

Jennings said there is no money for new housing, nor does she anticipate any. Instead, the agency has suffered cutbacks, forcing changes to stretch the dollars.

Coupled with the difficult economy, the result has been less money to meet increased need.

The agency's rent assistance program, called Section 8, typically has natural attrition as people's situations improve. Starting at the end of 2008, that stopped happening, Jennings said. Families stayed in the program, leaving fewer spots for new clients during 2009.

This year the agency is back to taking clients. The program has 458 people on the waiting list. The Section 8 cap is 699.

Public housing also has a waiting list, with 75 people waiting while the agency's 378 units are 98 percent filled.

Jennings said WVHA has worked on cutting the time it takes to prepare apartments for new residents as well as using capital improvement money for upgrades.

"We want to preserve (the units), that's the only economically feasible way to provide assistance to people in need," Jennings said.

While no new housing is slated to be built or purchased, the agency submitted a plan to sell five properties -- all single-family homes with large lots -- and use the sale proceeds to buy or build five replacement units, likely apartments or duplexes.

"We think clients are better served with multifamily units," Jennings said.

She said it is more cost effective to operate multifamily housing than single-family homes with land. Current residents will be given assistance in finding a place to move. Jennings said it could take up to two years to sell properties and finish replacements.

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