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Thursday, September 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 58.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Madison closes its waiting list for public housing
More and more families seek affordable apartments
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Hatchett: 'When you're starting from scratch, it's almost impossible to get a place.'
Hatchett: 'When you're starting from scratch, it's almost impossible to get a place.'
Credit:Joe Tarr

Every day, Marqueell Hatchett worries what will happen if he can't get a bed at the homeless shelter in the basement of Grace Episcopal Church on the Capitol Square.

He became homeless last August when his roommate went to jail and Hatchett could no longer afford the apartment they shared. Since then, he spent one brutal cold night out on the streets. "It was at least 4 degrees," he says. "I didn't sleep. I just kept walking."

The 26-year-old volunteers at homeless shelters while he looks for both work and a place to live. He's found very little that meets his budget. "I can't afford more than $500 [a month]," he says. "$600 would be pushing it."

Finding affordable housing in Madison has never been easy. It got even tougher this month, as the Community Development Authority closed the waiting list for the 865 housing units it operates.

Lisa Daniels, CDA admissions supervisor, says there are more than 3,000 families on the list (a "family" can be a single person or a group of people). CDA housing is subsidized so that occupants pay no more than 30% of their income on rent, the percentage the federal government considers "affordable." The CDA has only about 120 openings each year.

"We've just seen the list grow over the past few years," Daniels says. "When people do an application, we estimate how long they might have to wait for housing. When we find we're telling people they have to wait two or more years, we just don't think that's fair, or is maybe giving false hope."

Daniels has worked for the CDA for about a decade, and she's never seen the public housing list closed. (The waiting list for Section 8 subsidies for the private market has been closed since 2007.)

There are some exceptions, Daniels notes. The elderly, large families that qualify for a five-bedroom apartment, and those who use wheelchairs can still apply.

Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center, doesn't fault the CDA. But she says it shows how dismal the housing market is. In a blog post, Konkel points out that according to Census figures, 25,105 people living in Madison's 46,610 rental units - more than half - are paying 30% or more of their income on rent.

"The affordable housing picture is so bleak right now. There are waiting lists everywhere," she tells Isthmus. "I've never seen it so bad. And what's bugging me is the elected officials aren't responding to it."

Hatchett remembers one official's solution for homelessness: Mayor Soglin's proposal to give homeless people bus fare to another town.

A more helpful solution, Hatchett says, would be help with the first month's rent and security deposit. "When you're starting from scratch, it's almost impossible to get a place."

Konkel suggests options the city could take: subsidize 1,000 people at $500 a month for $6 million a year or build 1,000 units for about $65 million.

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