FORT WORTH -- A staggering 19,700 people applied last week for housing vouchers from the Fort Worth Housing Authority, about twice what officials expected.
The agency opened the Housing Choice program, also known as Section 8, to new applications for five days. It was the first time applications had been accepted since January 2008.
"We really weren't expecting to get up around 20,000," said Selarstean Mitchell, vice president for assisted housing. "I think it really speaks to the level of need that is out there and also how easy we made the application process for people."
About 100 vouchers are available immediately. Recipients for those will be chosen by computer lottery. The remaining eligible applicants will go on a waiting list.
Housing Choice voucher recipients pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, and the housing authority pays the balance. The vouchers are popular because many low-income families spend 60 to 70 percent of their income on rent, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
This year, the authority instituted the online-only application system and lottery instead of an in-person, first-come, first-served process, hoping to avoid unruly crowds that have gathered at other housing offices. Stampeding applicants have injured people.
The online system was so easy to use that some people who otherwise might not have submitted an application probably applied, Mitchell said. Several social-service agencies reported helping clients and clients' relatives.
About 10,000 applied the first day and about 2,000 a day the other four days, she said.
"The process went really well and was trouble-free," Mitchell said.
Officials had expected 10,000 to 12,000 applications, based in part on discussions with other housing authorities, she said. When the Fort Worth agency accepted mail-in applications from March 2007 to January 2008, it received 8,000.
Mitchell said housing officials will review the online applications for duplicates. Then a computer program will randomly assign numbers to eligible applicants. The first 100 numbers will be eligible for a voucher immediately, and the rest will go on a waiting list.
Applicants will be contacted via the mail to tell them where they are on the list.
About 50 people generally leave the voucher program each month. Some applicants will find other housing and be removed during regular purges of the list, Mitchell said. Some people may make too much money to qualify.
Still, getting through the list may take five years, she said.
Alex Branch, 817-390-7689