ST. HELENS - The Northwest Oregon Housing Authority may be just weeks away from drawing new families from a long-stagnant wait list into its federally-funded Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.

The rent help has been offered to the roughly 35 families who chose to move during the agency's funding crisis last summer, and new participants could soon be filling out paperwork to determine their eligibility, Carol Snell, NOHA's executive director, said.

At the housing authority's board of commissioners meeting Thursday, Administrative Assistant Teresa Sims reviewed how many vouchers are currently in use, and calculated how many the authority could afford for the rest of the year considering how much federal money is coming from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Last month, HUD increased NOHA's funding for the program by about $1 million for the 2010 calendar year, bumping it up to $6.3 million.

The board has been carefully monitoring the voucher count every month, and hasn't authorized the authority to add any new program participants from the wait list for nearly a year.

For months in early 2009, NOHA, which owns and manages low-income housing in addition to administering the Section 8 program, gave out more vouchers than it could afford, despite its accountant's repeated warnings. The result was a major budget crunch, which put 285 families at risk of homelessness for much of the summer.

When households got word that they might end up evicted if they couldn't pay rent, many took action to move before being forced out - doubling up with another family, downsizing to a smaller apartment or any number of other possible scenarios.

In the end, however, the evictions never occurred for the families who stayed in their homes - in September, HUD came to the rescue with a $795,000 bailout for the households. About $350,000 of that was actually spent.

While the board carefully monitored the order in which lost vouchers were reinstated once funding was secured - prioritizing disabled, elderly and single parent families - Snell clarified how new participants on the list will be added now.

"It's on a first come, first served basis," Snell said. The board is considering changing how names on the wait list are prioritized - also giving preference to elderly and disabled individuals - but the change wouldn't happen until a new administrative plan is drawn up by the housing authority's new executive director. Snell is retiring in July.

Not all added at onceWhile Sims' calculations would support adding another 150 families to the program, board members are still hesitant to add them back all at once.

"Let's do a series of smaller pulls," board member Janet Miltenberger urged the group. "I'd like to get leased up ... but I want to leave room and make sure we don't over lease."

Part of last year's problems came when management overshot its voucher target of 1,077 per month for many months. This month, 966 vouchers will be issued.

The board also got news that a possible plan to use the NOHA-owned Uniontown Apartments in Astoria has stalled. Last month, Kenneth Rislow of the Clatsop County Veterans Service presented a plan to use the 22-unit building - now mostly vacant - for a transitional housing project for veterans. After getting the support of the NOHA board at the March board meeting, Rislow formed a consortium of local partner agencies that would contribute to the project, hoping to apply for federal grants to fund using the building, but did not get the grant he hoped for.

The board and the housing authority remain hopeful that other sources of funding could be found to use the building in that way.

"We are going to encourage the veterans to continue getting their grant material together and ready in case other funding sources become available. NOHA is still looking toward working with the Veterans and having a program in Uniontown," Sims said.

In other board business, an appeal to a variance application for the NOHA's planned The Glade Apartments in Warrenton will be going before the City of Warrenton Planning Commission on April 8. NOHA has proposed a 12-unit housing development of studio and one-bedroom apartments and is requesting a variance for the parking requirements specified in the Warrenton Development Code. The property is located at the corner of SW Second Street and SW Alder Avenue.

The board was also updated on the search process to replace Snell as the authority's executive director. The deadline for applications for the position has closed, and 17 candidates sent in their materials. After screening for the minimum requirements, six people met the minimum requirements, and will soon be interviewed.

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