By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

The waiting list for housing assistance for low-income families in Del Norte County is getting longer, quadrupling the time people must wait to get into a subsidized home.

Housing Director Susie Mendez told the Crescent City City Council this week if the trend continues, the authority may stop adding names to the waiting list.

Wait times for assistance in Crescent City had been about six months until about a year ago. Now, Mendez said a one-to-two-year waiting time is becoming normal.

I had anticipated that it (the number of applicants) would level off, however for the past year or so, it has consistently been between 80 to 120 applicants at each monthly session, Mendez reported.

The added burden, Mendez said, is partly due to the decision two years ago by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to increase openings in Crescent City by 225 families. Mendez said this increase was unsolicited by the local housing authority and may have been prompted by an influx of families related to inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison.

These added openings total about $600,000 per year for the housing authority, which is entirely funded by HUD. But the additional funding is mainly for recipients not staffing.

Although the agency recently hired a new part-time housing inspector, it may not be enough for future demands.

We may have to close the waiting list at some point, Mendez said. Once we hit 600 or 700 on the (waiting list), it wont fit the size of our program here.

Mendez said Crescent City is one of only two communities in California with a perpetually open waiting list. She said this too has contributed to the increase in applicants as it draws more people to the area.

People will come here, or move here, just to get on assistance, said Mendez.

There are varying degrees of assistance available, dependent upon a familys classification, either very low-income or extremely low-income.

For a family of three to become eligible for very low-income assistance, the total family income must be less than $17,350 per year. For extremely low-income, income must be less than $10,400 per year. Mendez said greater hardship cases get priority status on the waiting list.

A typical family seeking assistance consists of single mothers and the elderly. Young single people are also becoming prominent on the list, since they became eligible in 1965, as more students are enrolling in the program.

Its a really good program and very sought after because, unlike most programs, you can take it with you if you relocate, Mendez said. Its because this program subsidizes tenants, not units.

Most of the residents at the Crescent City Senior Apartments on Oregon Street are on some kind of assistance, according to Manager Crystal Birch.

Pretty much every one of our units are subsidized, Birch said. Weve had no problems at all with HUD. Payments are very regular every month. Mendez said housing assistance is paid directly to landlords and not to tenants.

Mendez said there is one positive note related to the extended waiting time.

The good thing is, when its more difficult to get it, people will take it more seriously, said Mendez. They will take extra precautions to safeguard it ... it can be a lifelong program.

Mendez said the downside is not being able to help the people who need assistance immediately.

Its difficult to see people who really need it and cant get it, she said. Some of them cant afford to wait a really long time.

The housing authority is open to accept applications at 10 a.m. the first Wednesday of every month at the Crescent City Cultural Center at 1001 Front Street.