The federal government awarded 205 housing vouchers to state housing agencies this month, while thousands of low-income residents remain on voucher waiting lists.
The vouchers awarded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development will go to homeless veterans, young adults and families.
Public housing authorities in Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Cloud each received 35 vouchers under the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program. The program provides housing and services to homeless veterans.
The St. Paul Public Housing Authority also received 100 vouchers under the Family Reunification Program. The program will provide the vouchers to homeless young adults and homeless parents working to regain custody of their children.
"It's a great opportunity," said Susan Phillips, program director for Lutheran Social Services Homeless Youth Programs. "It would be great if there were more vouchers. I don't know if these programs are successful and able to demonstrate that, if HUD will create more vouchers."
Phillips said the number of homeless youth seeking services has increased sharply over the past year. Referrals at Safe House, a youth shelter run by Lutheran Social Services, have doubled over the same period last year.
Every night, the shelter turns away up to 15 homeless youth due to lack of space. "It's pretty frightening," Phillips said.
Voucher recipients pay about 30 percent of their income for rent. Veterans and families can keep the vouchers permanently, as long as they continue to meet eligibility criteria. Vouchers for youth expire after 18 months.
The programs are similar to the federally funded Section 8 program, the largest provider of subsidized housing in the nation.
Al Hester, housing policy director for the St. Paul Public Housing Authority, said the new vouchers will improve the lives of those who receive them, but that more needs to be done.
"It's not going to transform the low-income housing picture for thousands of families in St. Paul," Hester said.
About 8,000 households are on St. Paul's Section 8 voucher waiting list. Due to high demand and a lack of new vouchers, the list has been closed for the past two years.
The city's housing authority received 59 new vouchers in 2002, but has not received any since then, other than occasional funding for specific populations.
Last year, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority waiting list for Section 8 vouchers opened for the first time since 2003. During the two days the list was open, more than 12,000 households applied, the largest number yet.
Several hundred households who applied in 2003 are still waiting for a voucher, said Dennis Goldberg, deputy executive director for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.
"The need out there is very great," Goldberg said.
Housing officials plan to begin using the new vouchers as early as next month.