In Mecklenburg County, a new report reveals a massive gap between how many people need help paying for housing and how much help is available. Researchers announced Monday there are nearly 32,000 people on the county's waitlist for vouchers that subsidize the cost of private housing. Only about 200 of those vouchers become available each year.
Here's another way to think about that gap: for every housing voucher that comes open in Mecklenburg County, there are roughly 160 people who say they need it.
"It shows that there's a disconnect between what our families are needing and then the affordability in our area," says Stacy Lowry, director of the county's community support services. "Our poverty is increasing, the affordability of housing is not there, and then you have all these families that are waiting for something."
Researchers at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute analyzed the applications to get a clearer picture of who's looking for help. It's a rare opportunity – the waitlist opened last September for the first time in seven years.
Ashley Williams Clark co-authored the new report. She says 86 percent of applicants were female.
"The median household income was about $10,000 per household," she says. "One in four applicants identified as homeless. And then also 93 percent of applicants were black."
The data are self-reported, and the Charlotte Housing Authority would confirm someone's situation before awarding a voucher. But if that median household income mark holds up, housing authority president Fulton Meachem says everyone on the waitlist is likely eligible.
"They fall within that extremely low category," he says. "So if they were homeless, they would have the number one preference on the list. And then we would go through that list by date and time."
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gets a set budget from Congress for the vouchers. Federal officials say there are large waits everywhere.
Meachem says most people on the Mecklenburg County list will wait there for years. After all, it took seven years to clear the old waitlist, and he says that one was much smaller.