April Robidoux, 34, sits outside her home in Terrace Estates, near East Elementary School. She is unable to work and collects disability. She said she depends on her Section 8 housing voucher to afford a nice place for her two children.

Photo by Jerry Raehal

April Robidoux, 34, sits outside her home in Terrace Estates, near East Elementary School. She is unable to work and collects disability. She said she depends on her Section 8 housing voucher to afford a nice place for her two children.

Behind the 8 ball

Housing voucher program may leave Moffat and Rio Blanco counties

— Suesanne Smith and her husband, Wesley, have never asked for help before, Suesanne said.

But after her husband broke his arm and couldn't work for three months earlier this year, the couple, both in their mid- and late 40s, felt they had to find support.

Suesanne has not been able to work after a back surgery in 1997; she said she has never recovered.

Disability insurance also is out of reach, she said.

"I haven't seen a doctor because we can't afford to see a doctor right now," Suesanne said.

So, they applied for a Section 8 housing voucher from the local Colorado Division of Housing contractor, the Independent Life Center, 483 Yampa Ave.

"If we don't get a voucher, I don't know where we'll be," Suesanne said. "I'm praying that we won't have to have a voucher, but we go week-to-week right now."

Failing under program's weight

The Smiths are one of about 100 voucher applicants on the Life Center's waiting list, said Evelyn Tileston, Life Center executive director.

However, Tileston said, unless the Life Center can find extra funding, it will have to give the program up, meaning no one on its waiting list will be able to receive a voucher for Moffat or Rio Blanco counties.

Current voucher holders would be able to keep theirs, but as their vouchers expire because of deaths or ineligibility - if someone started a new job and made too much money to qualify, for instance - neither county would receive any new vouchers for other people.

The housing voucher program "would just go away," Tileston said.

The Life Center loses about $1,000 to $1,300 a month administering the program, she told the Moffat County Commission at its Tuesday meeting. Extra funding would have to equal the loss for the Life Center to keep the housing program.

Commissioners Saed Tayyara and Tom Mathers could not promise the county would contribute funds but did say they would investigate.

The Life Center applied to the Human Resource Council, a local nonprofit funding source, but was denied, Tileston said. A Resource Council representative could not be reached by press time.

"If this program goes away, and believe me it will go away if I can't find some extra funding," Tileston said, "there won't be hardly any low-income housing or housing for people with disabilities."

The Life Center has 88 vouchers to distribute between Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, all of which are spoken for, Tileston said.

People are eligible for a voucher based on their income and number of children.

The program is not about housing under-achievers, said Marlena O'Leary, Life Center housing coordinator.

"They are the homeless, they are the disabled, they are the elderly," she said.

Unfortunately, because of the Life Center's waiting list size, Tileston said, the organization is not taking new applications at this time.

A community concern

April Robidoux, a petite 34-year-old, battles chronic illness and is a single mother with two children 12 years old and younger.

Since age 10, she has suffered from ulcerative colitis, a condition that caused her to have her large intestine removed about five years ago.

After her daughter was born, her family doctor told her she had to immediately see a surgeon. Her intestine showed signs of cancer.

Removing the intestine was supposed to be the cure, Robidoux said.

"I made the decision anybody would make," she said. "It was either that or battle cancer. I was supposed to be cured.

"That started hell for me. I've been nothing but sick ever since."

In five years, Robidoux numbers her hospital visits at 38 and her surgeries at 14.

She has had blood clots in her lungs and complications from her surgery. She is on intravenous medicine all the time.

Robidoux also worked at the Life Center when it adopted the housing voucher program, she said.

At that time, about 2002, she was living in a place she could afford, earning limited income because her condition prevented her from taking a higher-paying job.

But, Robidoux said, the apartment she could find was not a suitable place to raise a family.

"The vouchers, they put people on an equal playing field," she said. "Now you can essentially, within certain guidelines, afford what the average person can."

Although Robidoux said her condition is on the worse end of the spectrum, no one is immune to bad fortune.

"Who would've known all this would come from a simple surgery that was supposed to be a cure?" she said. "You never know. You could get injured on the job, you could have surgery, something medical could happen out of the blue.

"If you were thrown into a situation where you could no longer work, how would you do it? How would you throw a roof over your head and your family's?"

There is no more affordable housing in Craig, she said.

"Because of the boom that is going on around the area, the rents are going up everywhere," Robidoux said.

She said she felt hurt for the people on the voucher waiting list.

"That's all that's left," she said. "A waiting list."

Problems at the top

The problems come back to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's operation, Tileston said saying Moffat County's Section 8 program is broken because HUD has not made it useful for residents.

A person with a Section 8 voucher may only use it to rent an apartment that meets HUD's fair market rent standards. Those values, which include a $617 per month limit for a two-bedroom apartment, also must include all utilities.

"These prices just don't exist in Moffat County," Tileston said.

What strains the Life Center, however, is HUD's policy to only pay for a local agency's administrative costs for each voucher a resident actually uses.

"We only have 69 vouchers leased up because the rest can't find a place for the right amount of money," Tileston said.

She said the Life Center might be able to afford the program if all vouchers were used.

HUD's Washington, D.C., office approved a 20 percent increase in fair market rent values after a random digit dialing survey conducted earlier this year, said Jane Goin, HUD Region 8 public affairs officer.

The survey was ordered because of concerns that area fair marker rents were too low, she added.

"HUD's goal is to help communities and conduct effective, timely surveys that reflect the fair market rents," Goin said.

Tileston and the Life Center plan to appear before the Craig City Council at its meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. She will petition the council to contribute whatever funding the city can afford.

She encourages anyone who wants to show support for the program to attend, as well.

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