Luzerne County Section 8 applicants explain why they are seeking help

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected]
A woman who identifed herself only as Kimberly, 51, of Kingston, discusses why she applied for Section 8 rental assistance at the Luzerne County Housing Authority in Kingston Wednesday. Most of her $749 monthly disability check is consumed by rent and utilities, she said. - Sean McKeag | Times Leader
People wait outside the Luzerne County Housing Authority in Kingston Wednesday during a rare one-day opportunity to apply for Section 8 rental assistance. - Sean McKeag | Times Leader

A week before turning 77, Edythe Kishbaugh waited in a long line Wednesday to apply for Section 8 rental assistance, saying it may be the only way she can remain in her apartment of 31 years.

She’s managed to cover the monthly rent of $600 plus utilities working as a part-time, private-duty nurse, but her new landlord warned her rent may be rising another $150 per month, she said.

The landlord expressed a willingness to work with her because she has lived there so long and is a model tenant, but Kishbaugh said she is nervous because an increase is likely.

“I’d like to stay,” she said. “I keep the place so nice.”

A steady stream of county residents appeared at the Luzerne County Housing Authority offices in Kingston for the one-day application opportunity, the first since July 2016. At times, the line stretched outside the building.

The authority received approximately 650 new applications for Section 8 on Wednesday, officials said.

In general, program participants receive vouchers for participating landlords covering 70 percent of rent and utilities, while tenants pay the remaining 30 percent, authority Executive Director David Fagula has said.

The invitation to apply was limited to one day because approximately 150 are still on a waiting list since 2016, when the authority received more than 700 applications during a two-day acceptance, Fagula has said.

New applications submitted Wednesday won’t be considered until the current list is closed out, which should take months, Fagula has said. The authority is federally authorized to fill 1,115 slots, but the $6 million it receives through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can cover only about 1,000.

Pleas for help

Ashley Keister, 28, arrived at the authority Wednesday with her 4-year-old daughter.

“This would mean a fresh start in life,” Keister said of Section 8 assistance.

Keister said she and her daughter have been essentially homeless since she left an abusive situation two years ago.

She said she has been on a waiting list to get into public housing since August and cannot obtain a job without a permanent residence and a child care plan. Keister and her daughter moved to temporary lodging at least five times the last two years, she said.

“We have been couch surfing for two years,” she said as her daughter nodded in agreement.

Hanover Township resident Mark Anthony, 26, said Section 8 assistance would lighten the stress he carries taking care of a spouse and three children, with another on the way.

He has a 1-year-old, and his wife is pregnant. His 5-year-old nephew and 12-year-old brother also reside with the couple.

Anthony works in a warehouse and has a second job performing labor work but said he struggles to cover basic living expenses.

His rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $600 per month — about $800 with utilities factored in. His monthly grocery bills have been averaging approximately $400.

“My jobs are not really paying much,” he said.

If he obtains a Section 8 voucher, Anthony said he wants to set aside some of the savings for a down-payment to purchase a house, with a goal of getting out of the government-funded program within a year.

Darlene Williamson, 42, of Exeter, said she has a similar goal of owning her own place.

A part-time nursing assistant, Williamson lives in one side of a double-block house with her two children, ages 14 and 17. Her monthly rent is $750, which comes to around $1,000 with utilities.

“I’m trying to save, but it’s hard,” Williamson said.

She said she would exit the Section 8 program as soon as possible to free up a slot for someone else in need.

“It would be temporary help until I get where I need to be,” Williamson said.

Disabilities an issue

Several applicants interviewed Wednesday said they would need Section 8 indefinitely because they do not know if or when they can get back on their feet due to disabilities.

Jonathan Green, 42, of Wilkes-Barre, said he is on disability for bad knees and fluid in one of his legs he largely attributes to high school football injuries.

Green said he wants to remain in this area until his son graduates from high school in several years. They live in public housing, but having their own apartment would allow more privacy and freedom, he said.

”With a voucher, I could get affordable housing,” Green said.

Leaning on a cane for support, Kimberly, who asked that her last name not be printed, said she is living on $749 per month from federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) due to multiple disabilities.

The 51-year-old said her income is almost entirely consumed by the $525 monthly rent for her Kingston apartment and additional utilities. She receives $39 per month from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

“I go hungry a lot,” she said.

Kimberly said she sometimes skips medication because she can’t afford the $3 copay. Seeking help from Section 8 has become a matter of survival, she said.

“I’m not one for handouts,” she said.

A woman who identifed herself only as Kimberly, 51, of Kingston, discusses why she applied for Section 8 rental assistance at the Luzerne County Housing Authority in Kingston Wednesday. Most of her $749 monthly disability check is consumed by rent and utilities, she said.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_TTL041918Section81.jpgA woman who identifed herself only as Kimberly, 51, of Kingston, discusses why she applied for Section 8 rental assistance at the Luzerne County Housing Authority in Kingston Wednesday. Most of her $749 monthly disability check is consumed by rent and utilities, she said. Sean McKeag | Times Leader

People wait outside the Luzerne County Housing Authority in Kingston Wednesday during a rare one-day opportunity to apply for Section 8 rental assistance.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_TTL041918Section82.jpgPeople wait outside the Luzerne County Housing Authority in Kingston Wednesday during a rare one-day opportunity to apply for Section 8 rental assistance. Sean McKeag | Times Leader

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.