By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – Families looking to find more affordable housing options are using a new set of vouchers handed out over the weekend to find a new place to live or bring down the cost of their current lease.

“Being a single mother, you always look for resources and people that can help,” Marquita Mays told CBS4 on Monday, a single mother that received a voucher.  “My kids were excited, this meant a good start for us, more space.”

housing vouchers 6pkg transfer frame 690 Housing Authority Helping Place Families & Working With Landlords

(credit: Marquita Mays)

The Denver Housing Authority fast tracked vouchers for 150 people on Saturday thanks to additional funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the Housing Choice Vouchers program. A lottery system helped determine which families received a voucher.

“It’s a very tight market, not a lot of vacancies,” said Isamael Guerrero, executive director of the housing authority. “We have many systems in place to make sure rents are paid on time electronically so we’ve made it much easier to participate in the program both for landlords and for families.”

housing vouchers 6pkg transfer frame 810 Housing Authority Helping Place Families & Working With Landlords

(credit: CBS)

The process allows for recipients of a voucher to take 60 days to find a suitable property owner that will give them a lease. So far this year, 20 percent of those vouchers expired after 60 days because tenants could not find a landlord to accept the voucher, according to the DHA. But applicants can receive additional extensions of 30 days to keep looking for an acceptable housing option.

Guerrero says the DHA hopes to work with all parties involved to increase their success rate with the new round of vouchers. Staff are providing training and certification for families to be considered “Gold Star” tenants by the agency. Services are also being adjusted to accommodate property owners.

housing vouchers 6pkg transfer frame 1110 Housing Authority Helping Place Families & Working With Landlords

(credit: CBS)

“More families [are] looking now with the ability to pay their rent timely every month,” he said. “We’ll find more landlords that are ready to be part of the program.”

The agency is also trying to attract new landlords not currently supporting the program. Staff also want to help families by working with their current property owners, hoping that their established relationship might help get the vouchers accepted and keep the tenant from needing to pay for moving expenses.

Mays remains focused on finding a new place for her family. She has five children, four growing boys that need more room. She hopes to use her voucher to move from her three-bedroom apartment to a bigger house.

“We just need more space, we don’t have to worry about anyone above us or below us,” she said. “They need a yard, my son is 15 and he hates it.”

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(credit: CBS)

The voucher is the first major break she has gotten for the cost of housing in 16 years. Almost half of that time she spent in the same apartment hoping for a better option. Less than five years ago, the father of her children passed away. As a single mother, she has tried to find better options but says the process has not gotten any easier. She has worked as a bus driver for the past year, grateful for this new chance to find a better home.

“Hard, it’s really really hard, it’s difficult. The resources are not what they used to be,” Mays said.  “It’s gotten way harder, it’s just not like it used to be.”

She is aware of the statistics for the vouchers but isn’t worried about the challenge ahead, the voucher itself is a sign of a better path ahead for her family.

“We’ll be looking everywhere in Denver to find something big enough for us,” Mays said.  “You just can’t give up, keep your faith, stay prayered up and stay positive.”

Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at smchitnis@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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