Determined to avoid a chaotic scene, Fort Worth Housing Authority officials are reminding applicants for housing vouchers not to line up outside the agency when applications are accepted Monday for the first time in 31/2 years.
The online application system and lottery are designed to prevent the large crowds that gathered last week when the application process opened in Dallas County.
News reports described a "stampede" in which several people were hurt.
"We want to stress that because of our online application process and lottery system, there is no need to come here," said Selarstean Mitchell, vice president of assisted housing. "Being first to apply won't matter."
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Applications for Housing Choice vouchers, also known as Section 8, were last accepted in January 2008. Recipients of the federally funded vouchers pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. The housing authority pays the balance.
The vouchers have always been popular, and now the economic downturn has put them in greater demand. In East Point, Ga., last summer, the application process reportedly turned into a "mob scene" when 30,000 people showed up.
Some low-income families spend 60 to 70 percent of their income on rent, said Linda Couch, senior vice president for housing for the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Only about 1 in 4 families eligible for vouchers actually gets one.
"Having a voucher is quite golden because they are a scarce resource," Couch said. "It is not an entitlement program where just because you qualify means you get one."
The Fort Worth Housing Authority will accept applications for five days, from 8 a.m. Monday until 5 p.m. Friday. It is accepting applications only at www.applyftwha.org.
After the application period ends, software will assign a lottery number to each applicant, officials said. The number will determine the applicant's place on a waiting list.
The agency will notify applicants of their places in about 90 days.
At that point, about 100 vouchers will be available immediately, said Alice Sykes, an authority spokeswoman. The rest of the applicants will remain on the waiting list. About 50 people generally transition out of the voucher program each month.
Officials expect thousands of applications.
Previously, applications were mailed in and processed first-come, first-served.
Couch called the online application process and lottery a smart way to maintain order. The only drawback is the possibility of excluding some people who lack Internet access or are unfamiliar with computers.
Housing authority officials encouraged applicants without Internet access to use library computers or seek help applying at local social service organizations.
People with documented disabilities can get help applying at the administration office, 1201 W. 13th St., from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Alex Branch, 817-390-7689