INDIANAPOLIS. Ind. — Last year approximately 838,000 people were living in Marion County.
The Indianapolis Housing Agency has about 200,000 names on its waiting list for public housing.
New IHA boss John Hall said that list is obviously not accurate, and he’s told his agency to figure out how many empty apartments it truly has and how many people need public housing assistance.
“Because IHA has between 12-15 properties, we have individual wait lists for all of those, as opposed to not just one consolidated system, so you can sign up for all 12-15 properties and already be housed somewhere else,” said Hall after he told the IHA Board of Commissioners that the waiting list was wildly inaccurate, “so, a lot of the numbers I feel are duplicated, and so we need to scrub that report to see who’s housed, who’s under a lease, and who actually is eligible to move up on the waiting list.”
A survey of IHA’s waiting list may find Veronica Rice’s name seven times.
“It’s been an ordeal. I’ve applied for it around summertime in 2001 in Beechwood Garden Apartments to be exact and never heard anything back from them,” Rice said. “I applied for Beechwood Garden again and I was told over the phone that I would have to reapply, and I just don’t understand. It’s been less than sixty days, you should have just taken that application that’s already been waiting.”
Compounding Rice’s frustration, and Hall’s too, is the recent discovery that IHA nearly doubled the number of empty apartments it manages literally overnight.
That night was March 18th when Hall, in his first weeks on the job, told his staff to walk each of IHA’s properties and knock on every door to determine if an apartment was occupied or empty.
When the staff set out that morning, they had 125 empty apartments agency-wide.
When they returned that afternoon, the number jumped to 225, and IHA’s occupancy rate slumped below 90%, more than seven points below the industry average and the agency’s break even figure to balance this year’s $77 million.
Hall said so far this year, IHA revenues are off by 6%.
“So we will need to work post haste in order to review eligible participants to move into our affordable housing sites, and we will be managing our wait lists accordingly over the next couple of months to make sure these numbers are increasing.”
Hall told his board he would have a pared down the reconciled wait list by its May meeting.
Rice wants to move up that list and move into an apartment.
“I would love to take care of a home. I work. It’s not a problem. I just want to call a place a home,” she said. “Give people a second chance. Sometimes things come out different if you open up the list and go through it and put people in the homes you feel are good because it’s pointless to just leave them empty.”
Kirby Hayes has been on the waiting list for a Section 8 voucher to move into a privately owned home with public housing assistance for just three years, and he said he’s frustrated every two weeks when he calls IHA headquarters for an update on his application.
“Their waiting list on the phone is 15 or 16 or 17 callers per day, and it’s like maybe a 30 or 45-minute wait,” said Hayes. “Every time I call, it’s the same story: ‘We’ll get to it when we can.’
“I have to keep calling them. They never call me.”
Hall told his commissioners that he determined the IHA staff has a 96% error rate when it comes to administering the Section 8 program.
“We could be put into receivership, where someone else would come in and do the things that we need to do for ourselves, and yes, subsequently, we would lose funding.”
Hayes is disabled, getting along on $771 in Social Security benefits per month, and said he could really use the housing help when his family leaves for Arizona next year.
“It makes me angry. It frustrates me,” he said. “I’m trying to get my answers on what are you going to do with the people that are disabled? We feel like we’re trash or we’re at the bottom of the list, and I feel everybody else who’s been on Section 8 who’s not disabled like me, they get first dibs on it.”
Not only is Hayes just one name among perhaps 200,000 on IHA’s bloated waiting list, not only is he applying for a program that Executive Director Hall admitted gets it wrong 96% of the time, he said he also gets no answers from the agency staff when it was revealed this week that IHA has had federal money since last November to house 55 disabled adults in Section 8 housing, and has managed to put roofs over the heads of just five.
“That’s what I wonder. Have they been wrong in still turning me down? Are they telling me the truth, and I feel there’s more truth behind it when I call?” he asked. “That’s crazy. It’s sad. It’s frustrating and it’s crooked to me.”
Hall has been told by his staff that it spent the last five and a half months figuring out how to set up the program and will place another 50 disabled adults in housing before the federal government’s November, 2019, deadline.
Despite the shortcomings, mismanagement, federal takeover threats and empty apartments that he has discovered in his first weeks on the job, Hall said he is confident IHA will add another 1,000 Section 8 vouchers to its list of 22,000 housing units in Indianapolis and vouchers for 400 homeless people under Mayor Joe Hogsett’s initiative.
Hall said so far, he’s been able to convince the Department of Housing and Urban Development to grant him more time to turn around the agency and head off potential partial takeover.
While he’s shopping for both a new Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer to help in his IHA turnaround, Hall said he will also institute new training programs to determine which current staff members will attain passing grades.