Thousands line up for spot in public housing

8,000 will go on waiting list for subsidized housing in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – People who have waited months to get into subsidized housing lined up Thursday morning at Metropolitan Park to get their names entered in a lottery for Section 8 units when they become available.

The Jacksonville Housing Authority has not had space available in its public housing for years. The city is accepting applications, and 8,000 of those applying will be added to the city's waiting list for rental assistance.

It could take up to three years for a subsidized unit to become available.

For Lenord Simmons, this chance would be a new start.

"It's important for me because of my situation as far as not being able to get a job," Simmons said. "I have two kids and it's hard to take care of them, and this program right here helps pay the rent and take care of yourself, I guess."

The lines were long but organized. Those in charge were determined to avoid what happened in 2011 in Dallas, where a near-riot broke out when voucher space was available. In Jacksonville, police were on hand and the wait to sign up moved quickly.

"We are going to establish about an 8,000-applicant waiting list, so the computerized system is going to randomly select 8,000 people to establish that waiting list," said Larry Gonzalez, of the Housing Authority.

It will take several months before applicants find out if they made the list, and then there is no guarantee of assistance. It could take two to four years to get help.

For Kerrie Heidt and her 1-year-old son, that seems like an eternity because she needs help now but knows this is her only choice.

"It's actually very important," she said. "We are getting evicted and we are going to live with my parents, so there is not really enough room for me and him there."