36K apply for 2,000 spots on metro-wide Section 8 wait list

Minnesota's largest Section 8 program drew nearly 36,000 applicants in a three-day period that ended at noon on Friday.

The final number is about half of what the Met Council's Housing and Redevelopment Authority staff initially anticipated based on what different parts of the country experienced.

"With the ability for word to spread like wildfire through social media we had anticipated a higher number and that we would get more folks applying from across the United States," said assistant HRA manager Jennifer Keogh.

Instead, 84 percent of the applicants who applied this week live in the state. The online process drew more than 13,000 applications during the first eight hours.

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"And that tells a story of how great of a need for affordable housing there is in Minnesota," Keogh said.

The Metropolitan Council opened the Section 8 waiting list earlier this week for the first time in eight years. It will randomly select 2,000 of those 36,000 households to place on the waiting list that has slowly diminished since 2007 as residents left the area or no longer qualify for the program.

The federally funded voucher program serves more than 100 cities in Anoka and Carver counties and suburban Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

Keogh said Met Council officials kept the waiting list 3,000 slots shorter this time compared to 2007 so that applicants selected aren't waiting longer than three years to receive vouchers. But back then, the wait list saw fewer applicants; only about 9,000 or one-quarter of the number seeking vouchers this time around.

Participants pay 30 to 40 percent of their income as rent and the rest is covered by the voucher.

Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington, along with a few other cities and counties, administer their own voucher programs.

In Minneapolis, the wait list last opened in 2008 and approximately 15,000 applied.

About 9,000 remain on the wait list for the affordable housing program there.

"At this point it's not a realistic option for us to open the waiting list," said Bob Boyd, director of policy and special initiatives for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.

Boyd said there is a "critical shortage" of affordable housing in the community. Housing is considered affordable when the monthly costs don't exceed 30 percent of a household's income.

"Unless someone leaves the program or is otherwise terminated," he said, "you don't have another voucher that you can make available to families."

But in St. Paul officials with the Public Housing Agency plan to open the Section 8 waiting list later this year, after it dwindled down to about 1,400 in 2013 from 8,000 in 2007.