More than 1,000 people turned out as the Madera Housing Authority opened its Section 8 waiting list. Because of budget cuts, the housing authority waited three years to open the application process. In that time, the number of people needing housing assistance has grown.
Hundreds of people lined up at the Madera County Fairgrounds early Tuesday morning to apply for Section 8 Housing - some were even camped out overnight since Sunday. "The economy is bad and I'm getting ready to be homeless on the first, coming up next month - me and my children. We need a place to live," said Alycia Ford of Chowchilla.
Section 8 is a program to help low-income families cover rental costs through housing vouchers. But the Madera Housing Authority isn't issuing vouchers just yet. Applicants first have to be placed on a waiting list. "When their name comes up on the waiting list, we'll give them - of course we have to go through the qualification period and see if they qualify," said Martha Ramirez with the Madera Housing Authority.
Officials say it could take one to three years before any of the applicants get assistance. "I'm hoping it will be less than that for me because I honestly don't have anywhere to go. If I get evicted from the place, there's nowhere I can move into," said Irene Gutierrez of Madera.
"I'm very hopeful. I'm very hopeful that it will result in something," said Celia Enriquez of Madera. Enriquez was homeless for four years and doesn't want to experience that again.
Housing officials say the problem is the lack of subsidized housing. "We get calls daily, at least 10 to 15, of people looking for apartments with Section 8," said Marie Davis. Davis manages the Sherwood Pointe apartments in Madera. Half the units are allotted for Section 8 but there aren't any vacancies. "People don't have the income to be able to rent a market rate unit. Even with Section 8 help, the market rate rents are going to be too high to afford it," said Davis.
And despite the wait, many are hopeful they'll be approved soon. The housing authority will be taking applications at their Madera office - located at 205 North G Street - until Friday. Once the application period closes, officials don't expect to reopen the waiting list for another three years.