The Contra Costa Housing Authority announced last week that it will open the waiting list for its Section 8 housing assistance program for five days in November.

It is the first time the Housing Authority has accepted new applicants for the federal voucher program since 2001.

Applicants can submit paperwork online and via U.S. mail from 8 a.m. Nov. 3 to 4:59 p.m. Nov. 7. The Housing Authority will accept applications that arrive in the mail until Nov. 14, said Bruce Smargiasso, director of the Section 8 program.

Of the Housing Authority's 6,781 total vouchers, 341 are currently available — but the agency expects to receive tens of thousands of applications next month.

All eligible applications received by the deadline will be placed in a random lottery and culled to 6,000 applicants who will be placed on the waiting list.

After the initial prescreening, the 6,000 selected families will then go through a more intense screening that includes validating their financial information and conducting a five-year criminal background check. Earlier this year, the Housing Authority intensified that background check from one year to five.

A little more than 20,000 families applied in 2001 and 12,000 were put on the waiting list, Housing Authority Executive Director Joseph Villareal said. This year — with the economic uncertainty and housing market meltdown — could see even more families apply, Villareal said.

"There's much more need there than there are vouchers available," he said.

Applicants that meet certain criteria — including those who have been displaced from their homes by natural disaster or foreclosure — will be given priority on the waiting list based on a point system. Smargiasso estimated it would take six months for first 300-plus families to receive their vouchers because of the time it will take to process applications and complete criminal background checks.

The Housing Authority put the 6,000-person cap on the waiting list because officials don't want to wait another seven years before opening it up again. Villareal said it would take about 21/2 years, at the current rate of turnover, for the last person on the waiting list to get his or her voucher. Most Section 8 tenants leave the program when their income levels surpass eligibility standards, Villareal said. However, some are kicked out and others die.

The gap between openings stretched as long as it did while the Housing Authority performed an audit and updated its procedures before opening the list, Villareal said.

At last count in December 2007, Antioch had the highest number of the Housing Authority's Section 8 voucher recipients among the county's cities with 1,499 vouchers (Pittsburg and Richmond operate their own housing authorities).

Basic market forces make East County, with its lower housing prices and a housing supply that has skyrocketed in the past decade, a natural draw for the program, Villareal said.

"It's just like the private market," Villareal said. "People move to places for every reason. ... Also, people go to where housing is available."

Antioch police Chief Jim Hyde said he welcomes this move because of the aid it will bring to struggling families, seniors and disabled residents in need of housing assistance.

Hyde said many of the problems Antioch has had in recent years with neighborhood crime associated with Section 8 tenants are being addressed by the Housing Authority through stricter screening policies and faster response to abuses of the program.

"From my reading of this community, it wasn't the issue of Section 8; it was the management of Section 8," Hyde said.

This round of applicants for Section 8 vouchers will likely include working families with moderate incomes who have gone through foreclosure or otherwise been hit by the economic downturn, Brentwood Housing and Redevelopment Manager Gina Rozenski said.

"We hope that the tenant behavior is going to be better because these are previous homeowners who are renting," Rozenski said.

Applications for the Section 8 voucher waiting list will be available starting Nov. 3 at the county's public libraries, at the housing authority's two offices, and online at www.hacccwaitlist.com. For more information about Section 8 and other housing programs, visit www.contracostahousing.org.

Reach Hilary Costa at 925-779-7166 or hcosta@bayareanewsgroup.com. Reach Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5053 or mgafni@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Section 8 waiting list
The Contra Costa Housing Authority is opening its Section 8 waiting list for the first time since 2001 from Nov. 3 to 7. Here's how to apply:
  • Online at www.hacccwaitlist.com from 8 a.m. Nov. 3 to 4:59 p.m. Nov. 7
  • In person at housing authority offices in Contra Costa County and at the county's public libraries. Those forms must be mailed and postmarked by Nov. 7 (and received by Nov. 14)
  • The housing authority will select 6,000 names through a computerized lottery system to join the program's waiting list.
    For more information about Section 8 and other housing programs, call 888-746-8731 or visit www.contracostahousing.org.

    Where Section 8 renters live
    The Contra Costa Housing Authority broke down its distribution of vouchers by city and unincorporated community in December 2007. Richmond and Pittsburg operate separate housing authorities.
  • Antioch: 1,499
  • Concord: 1,137
  • San Pablo: 815
  • Bay Point: 391
  • Brentwood: 319
  • Martinez: 307
  • Walnut Creek: 295
  • Hercules: 245
  • Oakley: 218
  • Pinole: 215
  • El Sobrante: 198
  • Pleasant Hill: 194
  • Rodeo: 125
  • San Ramon: 94
  • El Cerrito: 69
  • Lafayette: 47
  • Richmond: 26
  • Crockett: 25
  • North Richmond: 23
  • Discovery Bay: 17
  • Danville: 13
  • Pacheco: 13
  • Byron: 8
  • Moraga: 4
  • Alamo: 3
  • Bethel Island: 3
  • Clayton: 3
  • Clyde: 2
  • Kensington: 1
  • Knightsen: 1
  • Pittsburg: 1
  • Port Costa: 1