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Milwaukee Accepts Applications for Rent Assistance Vouchers For First Time in 15 Years

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Milwaukee County residents have not been able to apply for Section 8 rent assistance vouchers for the last fifteen years. However, as a result of changes in the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services Housing Division, the city now is accepting applications for the first time since 2001.  The application deadline is the end of the day today.

The housing division’s Section 8 program manager, Dena Hunt, says the goal of the voucher program is to help low income families and individuals with rent assistance.

"Really the underlying of the program is just to give people the relief and the assistance when they need it, and to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing because that's the cornerstone," Hunt explains.

The program now allows applicants to choose homes throughout Milwaukee County, compared to earlier programs that utilized project-based homes. This change allows potential tenants the freedom of choosing their own space.

"The reason behind the tenant-based program was to avoid the stigma of the project-based units and to allow them freedom and mobility. Many people wouldn't even know that they're on rent assistance," says Hunt.

Despite the stigma that surrounds individuals and families that receive financial assistance, Hunts explains, "there's no typical type of person on rent assistance."

Hunt and case assistants Alba Mendez and Connie Newson work with many different types of people from veterans and nursing students to single parents and grandparents taking care of their grandchildren.

"Just in talking to every client, it just opens my eyes," says Mendez. "Sometimes they just need somebody to listen to them and give actual resources that can help them, not just listen and turn them away."

Newson notes that too often housing is the missing piece or obstacle that prevents people from getting jobs. "For some...they may be unemployed because they don't have that residence to prepare for work. So once they find a home they can find employment, and I think it motivates them," she says.

Hunt believes that through revitalizing the voucher program, Milwaukee residents will be able to lift each other up and reduce the negative stigma that surrounds individuals and families in need of assistance.

"I'm a true believer in working for what you have, but...sometimes you need help," she says. "Everybody needs assistance at some point in some form or another."

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.