Dennis Ronald is very much at home in his Daniel Island apartment. It is clean, quiet, comfortable. But he has no idea how he will be able to hang on to the space when his government housing aid dries up in the coming months.

At age 61, the former auto mechanic is legally blind, unable to work and dependent on disability payments to get by. He counts on a little-known housing subsidy to pay a sizable chunk of the $499 monthly rent on his one-bedroom unit.

That subsidy -- known as the Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program -- is expiring because of federal budget cuts. So Ronald and some 20 others who rely on the program are wondering what will happen if they can't find alternative aid.

Many of the recipients are seniors, disabled or mentally ill.

"It would be really tough without it. I would have to cut back on food to eat or pass on buying clothes or medicine," he said. "There are just not many options when you get into a boat like I am in."

The affected residents all live in affordable housing complexes owned by the nonprofit Humanities Foundation. The organization has worked closely with the Charleston Housing Authority and Crisis Ministries to try to keep the residents in their homes, but no long-term solution has emerged, officials said.

When early funding for the subsidy ran out in August, Crisis Ministries was able to use federal stimulus funds for preventing homelessness to keep the 21 residents in their apartments for two more months, Crisis Ministries' Executive Director Stacey Denaux said.

An additional $96,000 in rental subsidy money eventually came through, but it runs out for good in nine months, said Don Cameron, president of the Charleston Housing Authority. "Unfortunately, these families' economic situation is probably going to be no better off then than it is today," he said.

The residents plan to show up this morning at Kiawah Homes Community Center to apply for the authority's Housing Choice Voucher program (formerly known as Section 8). Like the expiring tenant-based program, it gives families money so they can afford rent in the private market.

The problem is there are no openings, and the waiting list already numbers around 400 people, Cameron said. The housing authority last opened up the waiting list to new applicants several months back and some 300 people showed up to get a slot, he said.

"Once they do apply, then they have a chance," Cameron said. "The issue is hope. But is it realistic hope? That is the big question mark."

Cameron said the economic doldrums mean far fewer people are giving up their Section 8 vouchers. Usually, about 25 leave the program each month. Lately, that number is down to five or six, he said.

About 1,300 people in the community depend on the vouchers, Cameron said. The $7 million program provides an average subsidy of $519 a month, he said.

Jennifer Robinson-McKnight knows it might be a long shot, but she still plans to apply for help. Like Ronald, she is facing the loss of her rental subsidy.

The 62-year-old former teacher's aide is on disability after two car accidents left her with leg problems. She can't stand up for any length of time and can't work. The subsidy pays for about half of the rent at her West Ashley apartment, she said.

"I'm very concerned by this," she said. "This place has really been a blessing for me."

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or on Twitter at @glennsmith5.