South Portland Housing Authority gets record requests for aid

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SOUTH PORTLAND — In a sign of how the recession is affecting local residents, the South Portland Housing Authority reported a record number of families and senior citizens seeking subsidized housing.

The agency opened its waiting list for public housing and Section 8 vouchers for five days, from Oct. 4-8. More than 920 people responded, a figure that Lisa Viola, SPHA director of housing operations, said is unprecedented in her 27-year tenure.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Viola said.

Even more telling are the type of people seeking assistance, Viola said. About 70 percent of those on the waiting list are families seeking two- and three-bedroom apartments and vouchers. 

“We’ve had numerous people come in and say they lost their house because they lost their job,” she said. “It’s definitely the economy. People are out of work.”

In past years, Viola said, the waiting list contained about 250 names; about half were senior citizens and the other half were families.

SPHA Executive Director Mike Hulsey said the agency is exploring opportunities to create more subsidized housing in the city.

The SPHA owns and manages 346 housing units and manages another 172. It may provide up to 389 Section 8 vouchers, where the agency pays 70 percent of a client’s rent.

Hulsey said the agency is considering moving its offices from Landry Circle and adding a building to create 10 more housing units. The agency is also in negotiations for a vacant parcel for a new development, but Hulsey declined to give specifics.

Hulsey said the group is considering moving to the new, energy-efficient building at 100 Waterman Drive that has been eyed by some officials for a new City Hall.

That plan could include converting what was designed to be a business development into housing, he said.

“The board hasn’t made any decisions,” Hulsey said. “We’re looking at other areas, too.”

The last public housing development project in the city was the Betsy Ross House, a 123-unit facility for the elderly that opened about a decade ago.

Viola said there are five staffers currently processing applications – a job normally done by one person.

The agency currently has interviews scheduled through February, but still has another 250 applicants to schedule.

After that, applicants will have to wait for housing or vouchers to become available. In most cases, assistance is given on a first-come, first-served basis.

“That’s the only fair way to do it,” Viola said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or