Freaking out about the possibility of Section 8

November 27, 2015

Life has never been easy or predictable. At one point I thought it was, but back then I assumed I’d have my PhD, be married and have kids by the time I was 30. Now I’m well past 30, I haven’t spoke to that guy in 13 years, there are no kids, and I never did finish the PhD. I have no regrets. I’m just saying, life is unpredictable.

And in case I dared to forget it, the last few hours have reminded me all too clearly.

Life has been less certain than ever since I left my job 4 years ago. I can’t believe it’s been that long. Still, after a ton of work and effort, research, new doctors, new treatments, and fighting with insurance companies, I finally reached a point where I felt I might be able to do a little part time work. I was nervous, but also hopeful. It would be so nice not to have to worry about being on benefits that didn’t cover all the bills.

Today I did some work on that new business. I was feeling really excited about it! At 4pm I was jazzed, telling my mother all about my new plans and progress, outlining some next steps for myself, and imagining the possibility that this might actually work! At 5:30 I decided to check the mail. At 5:35, everything changed.

I had an unexpected letter.

I’m near the top of the waiting list for Section 8, so they want to start getting my paperwork ready and have an interview with me. Holy fuck! What just happened???

For those who don’t know, Section 8 is a housing voucher program. If you earn less than a certain amount, you’re eligible. Typically, you then pay 30% of your rent and the government pays the rest. There aren’t a lot of vouchers and the waiting list is long. When I signed up, I was told the wait was 3-4 years, so I put it out of my head. Whenever it popped back in, I reminded myself that I had a long wait and shouldn’t plan for it. And now, a year and a half later, it seems like it could soon be a reality. Sounds good, right?

Of course, like with anything, there are a few catches. For one thing, if you start earning more, then you lose the Section 8, and I don’t know what happens then. Would I have to move? And to use it in the first place I might have to move, and my choices would be very limited. Not all landlords accept Section 8 vouchers and I don’t know if mine does. Many don’t. Then there’s the problem that there are rental limits, and they’re pretty low for this area, so that makes it significantly harder to find a place.

Of course, this is just what I’ve heard and read. The truth is, I don’t know a lot. I have so many questions, but I got the letter at 5:30pm on a Friday, of course, so I need to wait all weekend before I can call and ask any of them.

So now I’m wondering, is this a good thing? It seems like it should be a good thing. If I’m doing the math right, this would mean I could almost cover all of my bills every month! There would be a small gap, maybe $50-$100 per month, but I could handle that. I get paid for small jobs here and there, and I get birthday and Chanukah checks, so I’m sure that wouldn’t be a problem. And would it be amazing to not have to worry about money?!? Ok, sure, I still wouldn’t have anything extra. It’s not like I could suddenly start eating out more, buying more clothes, or traveling. But it’s not like I really have to do any of those things anyway. So…. maybe this is good?

I’m nervous. I’m so used to things going wrong that it feels like there must be a big catch here that I’m not seeing yet. But then, what if there isn’t….?

If you’re on Section 8, what has your experience been like? What questions should I be asking? What should I know?



Defining “affordable”

November 1, 2017

Only a few people know that I live in “affordable housing.” It’s not something that I want to publicize because of the stigma involved. One friend recently asked me what my rent is, and was shocked at the answer.

That’s because it’s not all that “affordable.”

And it’s about to get worse.

There are different types of “affordable housing.” The kind I live in works like this:

  • I live in an apartment complex.
  • At least 10% of the units need to be part of the “affordable housing” program so that the developers/owners get tax breaks.
  • The rents are set by the state, based on my region. It’s based on a percentage of local earnings or housing rates or something. I’m not sure, and it doesn’t really matter, because it works out the same way.
  • Every year, the state determines how much rents will go up in my region.

As my lease is coming up for renewal, I filled out the 25-page questionnaire that reminded me of the colonoscopy I once had. They need A LOT of information. I have to account for every deposit into my bank account so they know my income is within the affordable housing limits. Cash a check from my parents? That counts as income. Get a job? That counts as income. Sell shit from my apartment? That counts as income. It’s invasive and unpleasant, but I do it so I can live here.

When they gave me the form, I was also told when next year’s rent will be. It’s a lot. Cheaper than what my neighbors in this complex pay, but a lot. Over $1400, not including utilities. Now I live in the Boston area, so rents here are high. Still, this is tough for someone who isn’t able to work full time. (Actually, my income is below their minimum requirements. The only let me move in because I have enough money in savings so assure I can cover my rent. Sadly, a lot of people earn too little to qualify for “affordable” housing!)

The increase bugs the hell out of me for one simple reason: it is a 5% increase! Yes, my rent is low compared to my neighbors, but 5%!

Rents in the area have been skyrocketing for years. My social security disability payments will not go up at all this year. I get the maximum SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits, and this year they went down by $2 per month because the maximum amount was lowered. None of my other benefits are going up. And let’s say I was working. I might be lucky enough to get a 2-3% raise. Maybe, and I mean maybe, a 4% raise. Maybe. But no one gets a 5% raise.

The cost of food is going up. Housing costs are going up. And benefits are going down. Politicians are saying that these programs cost too much, and they’re right. But instead of finding a way to fund the programs or fix the system, they are reducing benefits to people who need them.

And I am one of the lucky ones. I have enough money in savings to cover my costs for a while. My part time work covers some of my expenses. My parents help out a bit. It all works out. Sure, I almost never get to spend money on fun things, but at least I’m getting by.

I was telling someone that the waiting list for Section 8 housing is now 8-10 years. I am told I should expect to wait another 3-4 years to get into the program. Of course, I was told that when I signed up 4 years ago. She asked what people are supposed to do in the meantime.

And that’s the catch. The “safety nets” only work for people who aren’t truly desperate for them. Yes, people who are homeless get moved up on the waiting list for Section 8 (which is one reason why I get pushed down the list.) But it’s not enough. Someone shouldn’t have to be homeless before they get help.

These things are decided by people with good jobs earning steady paychecks. They presumably can pay for housing and food from those paychecks. So maybe they simply don’t understand what “affordable” means? I’d rather think they don’t get it, than that they don’t care.

Because raising rents based on what the community is earning or paying might sound good in theory. But a 5% rent increase is a lot for someone who wasn’t making ends meet before, and isn’t getting any sort of increase in their own income.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. What does that say about our system?

How bureaucracy continues to screw with me for being disabled

May 31, 2017

Remember this post from a year and a half ago when I was told I was nearing the top of the waiting list for Section 8? Well, a year and a half later I found out they were just screwing with me.

The other day I was thinking about what I would do if I suddenly got Section 8. At this point, it would make a huge difference. I could stop trying to work, and stop feeling overwhelmed all the time. I could actually cover almost all of my expenses. I could focus more on my health. Good things, right?

The last time I asked about my Section 8 status I was given vague non-answers. A year and a half ago they said I was near the top of the list and I spent hours filling out paperwork, some of which they lost, and I had to redo. A few months later they had me do more paperwork with my financials for the latest year. And then I heard nothing.

I checked in a few times, but they didn’t tell me anything.

After thinking about how helpful it would be, I decided to try again. I recently moved, so I called the housing office in my new town. I learned a few important things:

  1. When I signed up the waiting list was 4-5 years long. Now they’re saying it’s 10 years long.
  2. Because I moved, I’m no longer going to get a voucher from my old town. I mean, it’s allowed, but it won’t happen. Every town gives priority to people who live and work in that town. So my new town will give me priority over others, but of course, a lot of people are ahead of me on that list.
  3. I have another 2-3 years to go. Maybe more.

The woman I spoke to was confused as to why I was brought in to fill out paperwork. She said I was far too low on the list for that. And that was yesterday. I was obviously much lower on the list a year and a half ago!

This means a few things to me:

  1. Filling out that paperwork was a waste of my time.
  2. Filling out that paperwork was a waste of the housing office staff’s time and therefore money. Certain politicians say that people like me are wasting taxpayer money. Nope, not me. Believe me, I’d have rather not done all that work for nothing! The office wasted the money.
  3. I have no chance of getting Section 8 any time soon so I have to continue to try and earn money myself.

This sucks. A lot. At a friend’s urging, I will contact my state rep, and maybe my U.S. rep, to see if they can find out what’s going on. The thing is, they might find out, but I doubt it will help me.

I was jerked around. I was given false hope. And there is no discernible reason for this other than incompetence.

I am so sick and tired of poor and/or disabled people being screwed with and disrespected. This has to STOP!

What a difference a year makes

November 25, 2016

Holidays are a good time to reflect. Sometimes it’s because of the holiday itself, but often it’s simply because they stick in our heads. Last year at this time I was…. It’s easy to remember.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and it made me think about some recent Thanksgivings I’ve had. Some were a real struggle health-wise. Some were tough emotionally. A few were both. And then there was last year.

Last year I was recovering from surgery. I remember being super careful with my poor foot in a cast, making sure no one accidentally tripped over it. And if you’d asked me then where I’d be this year, I’m not quite sure what I’d have said. But I wouldn’t have guessed where I’m actually at.

I’m still recovering from that surgery. I thought I’d be long healed by now, but I still have some pain. I saw the doctor today and it looks like I’m still healing properly, just very slowly. Oh well.

I’m getting ready to move! I thought that by now I’d have received my Section 8 voucher and I’d be moving into a crappy place in a not-so-desirable area. I wasn’t sure when it would happen, but they’d led me to believe it would be soon. Instead, I still haven’t received the voucher (they’re still saying it will be “soon” but I no longer believe them), and I’m moving into a kick-ass apartment! Last Thanksgiving I was still months away from discovering the affordable housing programs that would let me live in a really nice place for less rent than I’m paying now. And when I do finally get that voucher, it should apply to my new apartment – yay!

Tomorrow I’m participating in a craft fair for the first time. Last Thanksgiving I had only recently learned that I could sell my kinds of crafts in the fall and winter. I was so excited! Because summer is no time to sell hats and scarves, and because I feel shitty all summer long, too. But fall and winter are perfect! Plus, I’ll get the Christmas shoppers coming by my booth. Last year I thought about participating, but I felt that I couldn’t manage a really long day (9am-3pm!) at a craft fair. I’m still not so sure that it’s a good idea, but this year I feel well enough to try!

Last year I’d seen some improvement to my health but I had plateaued. Now I still feel like I’ve plateaued, but I’m doing better than I was last year. So even though the changes were small, they definitely happened!

Last Thanksgiving I was just starting to create a business. Now I’m still working on the same business but I have a slightly different business plan. I’ve come farther than I’d have expected with it, even though it’s not bringing in any money yet. But I have confidence that it will!

Over the last year I unexpectedly saw an old friendship end and I surprisingly saw a couple of newer ones blossom.

Last year I was incredibly single. This year I still am. Ok, some things don’t change much.

All of this makes me wonder about next year. What will I be doing by next Thanksgiving? How will I be feeling? I can’t wait to find out!

Do you ever look back on where you were a year ago? How are you feeling about it?

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