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Housing vouchers go largely unused

After trying to survive housing insecurity while on wait lists that can last for up to two years, just over 3% of families selected from the Housing Choice Voucher program waiting list — commonly known as Section 8 housing — actually end up finding a home.

The Housing Choice Voucher program is run through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development department and provides assistance to low income families by paying a portion of rent costs directly to a landlord, ensuring the tenant pays no more than 40% of their monthly income on rent and utilities.

The amount of money allocated to a family for rent is based on HUD’s determination of an area’s fair market rent and the Regional Housing Authority’s payment standard, which is based on that fair market rent rate.



According to housing authority Occupancy Manager Alisha Parker, her office selects about 100 applicants from their waiting list at a time to enter the program, Of those chosen, only about 50% respond to the housing authority’s attempts to contact them via mail. If a candidate doesn’t respond within two weeks, they are removed from the program. Of those that do respond, only about 30% actually meet income eligibility requirements.

Although the program is designed for those making less than 80% of an area’s median income level, due to funding priorities Nevada County’s Regional Housing Authority, which also serves Yuba, Sutter and Colusa counties, only funds families with annual income levels less than 50% of an area’s median. The housing authority accepts all applicants onto the waiting list and then screens them for income eligibility once they are selected.



Of those who actually receive the vouchers, only 22% — 3.3 of the original 100 — are able to find housing that will accept them.

Market rate

For 2019, HUD determined the median family income for Nevada County was $85,100 and set payment standard for a studio apartment at $778, with a four bedroom home set at a rate of $1,978 per month. According to data from http://www.rentdata.org, the 2020 fair market rate Nevada County will be $856 for a studio and $2,052 for a four-bedroom apartment, but the payment standard set by the housing authority in 2020 will change to just $788 and $1,863, respectively.

“Last year the rates were not what was realistic to what the market was reflecting,” Parker said. “In Nevada County it’s even harder because there’s a lack of (rentals) there. Even when voucher holders would find a unit, it might not be affordable enough since the market is so tight in that area.”

Even if the payment standards did more closely match the actual rates people are paying for housing, Parker points out that would not make much of a difference without additional funding from HUD to meet those payment standards.

“There’s times where fair market rent rate went up and we think payment standards will be more reasonable now but HUD is not paying us that extra money as well, so there’s two components every year.” Parker said. “Just because our fair market rate goes up doesn’t mean our funding goes up.”

According to Parker, the most common reasons that voucher recipients can’t find a place to live are due to the lack of housing stock generally, as well as affordable options that will meet the program requirements. In the past, finding landlords who would accept vouchers was their biggest problem and now voucher recipients are having trouble just finding a place that is renting at all.

Study

In 2018 HUD published a study that found some of the biggest challenges to finding a home for voucher recipients are navigating the process, dealing with discriminatory landlords and having the time to find a place that would rent to them.

“Overall, we found that identifying advertisements that were eligible for the program — that were affordable — was extremely challenging,” the report stated. “During approximately 16 months of testing, we screened more than 341,000 online advertisements across the 5 study sites to find 8,735 advertisements for rental housing that appeared to be voucher eligible. Helping voucher holders find housing and successfully use their vouchers, particularly in opportunity-rich neighborhoods, will require expanded search times, housing search assistance, and better maintained (public housing authority) lists of available housing.”

According to the study, those with housing vouchers were also more likely to be stood up by landlords and to face additional scrutiny compared to non-voucher applicants, including employment and income requirements that would make them ineligible for the voucher program in the first place.

The study also revealed that discrimination was less common in jurisdictions with protections for tenants receiving public assistance, which will include California when Senate Bill 342, a bill that outlaws discrimination based on income source, goes into effect next year.

While the law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October, would make deciding whether to rent to a tenant solely based on income source illegal, the landlord could still get around those restrictions with income requirements so long as they applied to voucher and non-voucher receiving tenants alike.

The Housing Choice Voucher program wait list is now open and currently has about 900 applicants on the waiting list after purging the rolls from about 5,000 in March.

People can visit http://www.regionalha.org/programs/housing-choice-voucher to learn more.

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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