Government Housing Vouchers Are Hard To Get, And Hard To Use : NPR

Some families wait years to get a voucher only to find out that many landlords aren’t accepting them. Beck Harlan hide caption

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Beck Harlan

Some families wait years to get a voucher only to find out that many landlords aren’t accepting them.

Beck Harlan

Biden’s government is preparing to release new $ 5 billion worth of housing vouchers approved in the latest COVID relief bill. The aim is to help 70,000 low-income families at risk of homelessness due to the pandemic.

But even in the best of times, it can be difficult to use coupons that allow recipients to pay one-third of their rental income while the government does the rest. Many landlords do not accept them and the vouchers are often difficult to come by. Some families have to wait years to get one.

That’s why Sheena Haskin of Sacramento was lucky when she received hers last October. Now, six months later, she is homeless after her last landlord evicted her and her three sons.

Section 8 Vouchers help the poor - but only if housing is available

“I live from hotel to hotel. I pay out of my own pocket. And I’m almost broke,” says Haskin.

Haskin found a new landlord willing to accept her voucher, but she says the local housing authority refused to pay the rent the landlord was trying to charge.

“I had an inspection appointment. I had a move-in appointment. They said they wanted to negotiate with the apartment complex. The apartment complex didn’t want to negotiate and I had to start over,” she says.

And that’s not unusual. It is estimated that up to 30% of families in the country cannot use their government vouchers because they encounter one or the other hurdle.

Sarah O’Daniel, assistant manager of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, wouldn’t comment on Haskin’s specific case, but she says her agency can only cover what is considered reasonable rent. She says some landlords want to charge more than the government thinks a particular unit is worth after checking out.

“Basically, it’s like buying a home and having to do an appraisal to see its value,” says O’Daniel.

Choice between misery or street: living without state aid

One of the many challenges that housing authorities faced was finding enough affordable housing units and landlords willing to participate in the program. As in other cities, Sacramento began Offer incentives last year, for example, a one-time bonus of $ 2,500 to encourage new landlords to sign up.

“We also helped pay security deposits and applicant fees, and we also set aside some money for claims for damages because that’s one of the things landlords struggle with,” says O’Daniel.

She says there is a lot of stigma associated with the voucher program formerly known as Section 8. Some people believe that voucher holders are not as responsible as other renters despite the government guaranteeing the rent.

Sunia Zaterman, executive director of the council of major public housing authorities, says it has always been difficult to balance the interests of landlords, tenants and taxpayers, but the situation was worse than ever in the pandemic as millions of Americans struggled To pay rent.

“All of our members need additional coupons that serve a wide range of populations,” says Zaterman.

The new vouchers are specifically aimed at homeless people who are at risk of homelessness or who are fleeing domestic violence. According to Zaterman, these recipients will likely need additional services to stay housed.

Eva Rosen, an assistant professor at Georgetown University, says landlords are often reluctant to participate in the voucher program and in many places can simply refuse to rent to voucher holders. About 15 states and several dozen cities have laws prohibiting such discrimination.

“But there are many ways for landlords to get around that,” she says.

One way is to ask for a higher rent than the government wants to pay. Or to conduct a credit check, which voucher holders are more likely to fail. Rental units also need to be inspected, and Rosen says landlords purposely cannot pass these inspections.

“If the light switch doesn’t work or the outlet is a paint and the landlord didn’t fix it, and if they don’t fix it on re-inspection, it’s really easy to go ahead and somehow fail.” on purpose so as not to have to take the voucher renter, “she says.

Rosen literally wrote the book about coupons, called The voucher promise, a promise she makes has yet to be fully fulfilled. She believes the program needs to be more flexible by cutting some of the red tape and allowing housing authorities to pay even higher rents in nicer areas. She notes that one of the main goals is to get families out of concentrated poverty.

This is one of the things Sheena Haskin is hoping for after her eldest son was shot outside her old apartment last summer.

“I don’t want to get out of one bad neighborhood and then go back to another bad neighborhood,” she says.

Haskin recently found another place to accept her voucher – a three bedroom apartment in a neighborhood with less crime and better schools. She keeps her fingers crossed that this time the deal will come about.


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