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Originally published Monday, June 13, 2011 at 7:51 PM

King County to begin new waitlist for housing

The King County Housing Authority will be awarding Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers for the first time in four years.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Since 2007, Marie Dickson has bided her time for a government-housing subsidy.

She was No. 2,069 — out of 2,500 — on the King County Housing Authority's Section 8 voucher list. Last Friday, the wait ended.

"The way I think of this voucher is it's a godsend. It came at the darkest point of my life," Dickson said.

As she and others on the tail end of the waitlist receive their vouchers, the county just finished accepting new applications for the voucher program for the first time in four years. In July, the county will select 2,500 applicants — out of a pool of 25,306 — for a new waiting list.

After open-heart surgery and two bouts with stomach cancer, Dickson hasn't been able to work for the past few years. Her unemployment ran out in April, and her husband, Abraham, a truck driver, is out of work and unable to get unemployment insurance.

Because the couple has no source of income, the voucher program will help cover rent — a maximum $706 per month for six months — while she and her husband search for jobs.

Up to 50 households will receive vouchers as early as August, said Rhonda Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for the King County Housing Authority. She said it could take several years before everyone on the new list receives the vouchers because new ones only become available when people don't need them anymore.

Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers are subsidies provided by the federal government and allocated through local housing authorities. The subsidies cover the gap between private market-rate rents and what low-income tenants can pay. In general, voucher holders contribute 30 to 40 percent of their household income.

For example, a family of three making $13,000 a year would pay $325 to $433 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. An average two-bedroom apartment in the county goes for $1,176 per month, so the government would foot as much as $851 per month.

To qualify for the program, a resident must be homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless; using more than half of his or her income to pay rent; or living in unhealthy or dangerous conditions.

Preliminary numbers from the new batch of voucher applicants shows that about 65 percent are female, 9.8 percent are seniors and 7.7 percent are veterans. The application period ended last week.

Dickson said she wanted people to know that she hasn't ever asked for help from the government before and considers herself to be self-sufficient.

"I've worked hard my whole life," Dickson said. She said she holds a master's degree in history from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and has worked for the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Seattle Center Monorail and a Holiday Inn Express. Her last job, she said, was managing a taxicab company.

When the county established its 2007 waitlist, it expected to cycle through everyone within 18 months, Rosenberg said.

"Once the recession hit, we found people holding onto the vouchers for longer," she said.

J.B. Wogan: 206-464-2206 or jwogan@seattletimes.com

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