Friday, June 6, 2014
Section 8 housing lottery causes chaos in Hialeah
The computer system of Hialeah’s Section 8 housing lottery crashed abruptly Friday after thousands tried to register online for the popular federal housing subsidy program for low-income residents.
The malfunction led to a big crowd at the JFK library on 49th Street in Hialeah, where hundreds of elderly people had been arriving since the previous night and were waiting to use the public computers to sign up.
“I’ve been standing in line since 11:20 p.m. last night and I haven’t slept, waiting to register for this lottery,” said Eudelina Lozano, 69, a Hialeah resident. “And they tell us that the computers are damaged. This is not easy at all.”
The computer crash was caused by the massive numbers of people who showed up to register, said Julio Ponce, executive director of the Hialeah Housing Authority (HHA).
The HHA had scheduled only six hours — from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Friday to register for the Section 8 lottery, which will benefit 2,500 people with government rental subsidies for housing in Hialeah.
“Many people entered our web page, much more than expected,” Ponce said. “This proves what we always tell federal government officials [in charge of funding the program], that there is a great demand for housing in our community.”
The company in charge of the computer system that operates the Hialeah Section 8 program lottery is Lindsey Software, based in North Little Rock, Arkansas, Ponce said.
This is the third time that Lindsey Software has operated the Hialeah housing lottery and “had never before experienced problems,” he said.
However, Jessie Acebo, a mother of two who lives in Hialeah, said authorities should have done a better job planning the registration, especially because the majority of the applicants are elderly people who have no computer access at home.
“[The organizers] should have prepared adequately for this situation, but they didn’t,” Acebo said. “Many of these people are sick, take medications, are retired, and there are some of us with children who are losing a day of work. We have all wasted our day here today. It’s not fair!”
For Yolanda Valdés, 67, who was in an electric wheelchair, soaring temperatures made the wait outside the library seem like torture.
“This is the fifth time I apply after four rejections,” Valdés said. “I live alone, and I have been waiting here since 6 a.m. and I haven’t had anything to eat today.”
Because of the strong protests outside the library, Hialeah police officers were posted at the door and began to organize the crowd so they could use the restrooms.
The HHA staff distributed bottled water.
Shortly after noon, Hialeah mayor Carlos Hernández showed up. He explained about the web page crashing because of heavy demand. He later announced that the registration period had been extended until Monday.
“The [housing] demand is immense,” Hernández said repeatedly to hundreds of people who kept shouting their complaints from the line. “Over the weekend, those who have access to a computer will be able to register online and on Monday the libraries will be open again to those who wish to come back.