NORTH ADAMS -- When the North Adams Housing Authority opened the city's Section 8 voucher waiting list Monday, the response was drastically different from three years ago, when more than 100 applicants began arriving at its Ashland Street offices at 4 a.m. -- four hours before it opened its doors.
In 2010, the last time the voucher waiting list was opened, the housing authority processed 1,000 applications -- 700 of which were filed by residents of Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee.
"Last time we opened up the list, there was a Spanish-language radio station in Holyoke that saw our advertisement and talked about it on-air," Executive Director Jennifer Hohn said. "With the economy the way it is, we expected a similar response, so this time we were prepared -- we brought in two police officers and a translator just in case we needed them."
But the anticipated crowds didn't show this time. Only about a dozen people had trickled into the Ashland Street Apartments community room to fill out applications Monday morning. By 4:30 p.m., the deadline for applications, only 118 had been submitted.
"People came by the busloads last time," Val Zwiercan, the housing authority's Section 8 program manager, said Monday. "Today, we had four completed applications by 9 a.m."
The vouchers provide discounted rental rates to those who qualify for them.
"We won't be issuing vouchers for some time, as we're working with an interim HUD funding budget because of the sequester," Hohn said. "We need to balance out how we utilize our vouchers based on our total HUD funding. The vouchers are not assigned by bedroom size, so each voucher has a different amount of rental subsidy attached to it depending on how it is used. We need to balance our number of vouchers against our funding. That's difficult to do, when you won't know your funding level for three months."
While the housing authority has seen people from outside the area apply for vouchers in the past, the response in 2010 was by far the largest turnout in recent years, with a typical response garnering 250 to 300 applications. Although the federally-funded Section 8 vouchers are available to any Massachusetts resident who has lived in the state for a year, the housing authority is allowed to give preference to qualifying applicants living or working in the city.
"It's really a pre-application process," she said. "The completed applications will be split into two lists, those who already live or work in the city and those from outside the city. The information is then entered into a software system that randomly assigns a number on our waiting list."
But because the vouchers are "mobile," meaning they can be used for any eligible apartment, in any community -- the opening of a housing authority's waiting list can be an attractive option to individuals and families from other areas.
"We have to administer those ‘mobile' vouchers until the local housing authority can absorb them," Hohn said. "Since those vouchers are in other parts of the state or in other states, we pay those housing authorities a fee to take care of the annual housing inspections and to oversee the annual recertification process for us."
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email