In 2004, the last time the Housing Choice Voucher program opened, it attracted a large crowd. (FILE 2004)

In 2004, the last year that the Oak Park Housing Authority (OPHA) opened its applications for the housing voucher waitlist, the line of people applying snaked around the block. Over 50,000 households applied to be put on Oak Park’s waitlist. When the list opens again on March 14, David Pope, president of the Oak Park Residence Corporation, says the process should be much more streamlined.

Formerly known as Section 8, the Housing Choice Voucher program helps very-low-income households with monthly rent payments. The locally administered, federal program helps households pay the portion of their rent that exceeds 30% of the household’s qualified monthly income.  Pope says, “It allows people who are extremely low-income to afford to live here.”

The OPHA gives preferences to low-income families who are currently legal residents of Oak Park or currently employed 30 or more hours a week in Oak Park or have an offer to work 30 or more hours in the village.

There are roughly 600 households in the village that currently participate in the Housing Choice Voucher program.  Of that 600, approximately 427 households use standard housing vouchers. An additional 83 use mainstream vouchers that are targeted for persons and households with disabilities, and 33 of those 83 are reserved for households that are experiencing or are at imminent risk of experiencing homelessness. Fifteen households utilize vouchers set aside for individuals who are able to live independently, perhaps with some supports, but who are currently living in nursing home settings. A variable number of households here were awarded vouchers by other communities but are able to utilize them here, due to portability. 

Pope says that working through paper applications in 2004 was a “very extreme and time-consuming process” that led to about 2,000 households being placed on the final waiting list. It took almost 18 years to work through the waitlist established in 2004, but Pope expects the implementation of a new application system to help the process from multiple angles.

This time, he says, “We’re learning from that experience and taking advantage of technological advancements.”

With the use of a software system known as YARDI, used by housing agencies across the country, the entire process has moved on-line. Applicants will complete the pre-application process on-line. After the pre-application period closes, the system will randomly generate a selection of 150 households from all entries received during the pre-application period. Then, the system will randomly rank the households to create an active waitlist.

With this system, Pope says the process will be easier to work with going forward and will enable people to hear more quickly about whether or not they were selected. The smaller number of households on the waiting list will also mean that the waiting list will be opened up more frequently.

Pope says, “It’s a really significant opportunity. We’re thrilled that more folks can sign up and get their names on the waiting list and ultimately, receive the housing supports they need.”

Pre-applications will be accepted between 8:30 a.m. on Monday, March 14 and 3 p.m. on Friday, March 25 through the online portal www.oakparkha.org. Pre-applications will only be accepted on-line and will require a valid email address. Those needing assistance with completing the on-line process can seek help with social service agencies listed on the OPHA website.

After the first random selections, all applicants will be notified of their selection status in April. Those who are selected for the 150 spots on the waitlist will also be notified by mail by the OPHA. 

Noting that the process of working through paper applications in 2004 took over six months, Pope remarks, “This will be a much different and much better process for everyone involved.”

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