LAURINBURG — With as many as 1,800 people on a waiting list for housing assistance, Four-County Community Services will for the first time in its history suspend the application period for its federally funded Housing Choice Voucher Program.
Beginning June 26, no applications for housing aid will be accepted by the Laurinburg-based agency which serves Scotland, Bladen, Robeson, Columbus, Pender, Brunswick and Hoke counties. The suspension is allowed by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development in extreme cases.
According to John Wesley, Four-County Housing Coordinator, the wait list will reopen once there are less than two years worth of applicants — but he doesn’t know when that will be.
“More people apply than we can serve,” he said. “We’re only able to serve 437 families at a time. The only way we’re able to bring new families on is if somebody gets off the program.”
There are three ways that happens — if a tenant starts earning a salary above the program’s cap; if rules of the program are violated; or if the tenant dies.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover. Let’s say you turn over 65 people in a year, and you have 500 that apply. That’s why the waiting list steadily increases.”
Because the program is federally funded, anyone seeking assistance whose jurisdiction is already full can apply, Wesley said, meaning the waitlist includes many from Scotland County but also from as far away as New York.
Funding is awarded on a points system, with points assigned for each of the applicant’s needs — such as a disability or being over the age of 62. Those with the most points are first to receive assistance.
Some of the waitlisted applied as many as 12 years ago.
“It’s unreal. … Its disheartening, really, to see a family come in that’s in dire need, in real need of assistance, and you can’t help that family,” Wesley said. “… Eventually, it will get to where we will be able to serve those families in a more reasonable amount of time.
The cutoff time for applications on June 26 is 3 p.m.
In addition to the Section 8 housing program, Four-County Community Services operates 16 Head Start programs and a weatherization project in the seven counties it serves. Under the direction of newly hired executive director Erika Whitaker, the agency is trying to move past a troubled history — including a recent state audit which found that nearly $5 million was misspent on items such as gym memberships and employee bonuses from 2009-2012.
Wesley, along with Four-County Community Services and agency employee Eric Pender, are currently defendants in a sexual harassment lawsuit that was recently moved to federal court.
Wesley said he had been barred from making comment about that case.
Abbi Overfelt can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 12. Follow her on Twitter @aoinscotco.