Nearly 26,500 people in Montgomery County are waiting for assistance to receive a housing voucher or placement in public housing, according to officials who spoke Monday at the Affordable Housing Summit of Montgomery County.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also reported that there are more than 700 homeless veterans living in the DC metro region. The numbers are only expected to grow as nearly a million veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to officials.
The Housing Choice Vouchers, formerly known as Section 8, allow for low-income residents to find affordable housing in the private sector, while public housing is run by the Housing Opportunities Commission and funded by taxpayer dollars.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett acknowledged the lack of housing for returning veterans during a press conference Monday, stating that the nation they serve should provide them with safe housing.
“People that are serving in our armed forces are coming back to a community that doesn’t provide adequate housing,” Leggett said.
Although he recognized issues with the budgets, Leggett said that it’s one of his priorities to find homes for veterans.
During the summit, the nearly 600 attendees listened to eight panels discuss a variety of affordable housing issues—from creating sustainable housing and a trend in multi-family housing, to homelessness issues and housing for veterans and residents with special needs.
John Mendez, of Bethesda Cares, Inc., spoke about the work he does creating relationships with homeless veterans in order to gain their trust and get them the help they need.
“Sometimes it takes a year or two for a veteran to open up,” Mendez said, noting he sometimes carries around cigarettes, even though he doesn’t smoke, so that he can get them to talk to him.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, who was the keynote speaker at Monday’s summit, spoke of President Barack Obama’s pledge to end veteran homelessness by 2015.
“We’re going to do everything to keep that pledge,” Donovan said.
In a year, the federal government has reduced the number of veterans without a home by 18 percent, he reported.
Despite a very tough budget environment, Donovan said, $75 million would be set aside for vouchers.
Yet, beyond finding affordable housing for veterans, others in Montgomery County are still facing issues when it comes to owning a home.
With large down payments and closing costs needed to own a home, for many, the idea of homeownership is out of reach.
In 2010, nearly 37 percent of the county's homeowners spent more than 30 percent of their income on their mortgages, while nearly 54 percent of renters were burdened by their rent payments, according to the county’s planning department.
And although the unemployment number is decreasing, more than 28,800 residents remain unemployed.
Officials from federal, state and local agencies said Monday that they are focusing on creating programs and initiatives that will make it easier for people to afford a home.
This post has been updated.
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