Changes are on the way for the Wichita Falls Housing Choice Voucher Program. This comes after the city council approved a new five-year public housing plan Tuesday.
There were three main modifications made to the current voucher regulations. Tenants will now be required to undergo a national, rather than just local, criminal background check.
That background check will go back ten years, rather than just three. Finally, applicants who have been evicted before will now face a three year penalty.
The third change was put in place in order to stop evicted tenants from re-applying to the program immediately after eviction. Officials said it will hopefully speed up the waiting list, and give other residents faster housing opportunities.
However, these shifts in policy have some residents concerned.
"They have a criminal background for the ten year period so how are we going to house those people?" A concerned Wichita Falls resident spent Tuesday morning questioning those changes at the city council meeting.
"I also have a concern with people who are being released from criminal institutions. When they come out, they aren't going to be allowed, right?"
Residents said many people with criminal backgrounds have nowhere to go after serving time. They said the new requirements could worsen homelessness in the city.
However, Housing Agency officials said that's not the case.
"That's been a process," said Pamela Ibarra, Wichita Falls Housing Generalist. "We've had a lot of people get those vouchers but have not been able to use them because of their backgrounds."
Ibarra said that's because most property owners already do those extensive background checks. The ultimate decision is up to property owners.
Most apartment complexes already do a 10-year background check, according to Ibarra. That's why it's important to even the standards, she said.
By enforcing stricter guidelines, it may help cut out the time spent on ineligible applicants, according to Ibarra.
"The funding is not being utilized as quickly as we need to be utilizing that funding to house as many in Wichita Falls as we can," said Ibarra.
Right now, nearly 800 people are using the housing vouchers, but another 400 are still on the waiting list.
Those waiting for assistance will be subject to the new rules. Those already in the program are grandfathered in.
However, if those currently housed with vouchers is evicted or gets off the program, the new rules will apply if they seek those vouchers in the future.