July 1, 2008

Section 8: Continuing to Wait

It's like waiting in a line at Disney World. But a lot less fun.

I spoke with a few of our clients about Section 8 housing recently, and I think their statements help identify some of the general issues people are having with subsidized housing.

Interestingly enough, none of the clients I spoke with had lived in or even applied for Section 8 housing. A lack of knowledge, either about the eligibility criteria or the application process, seemed to be their main deterrent. I can sympathize with that. After scouring HUD’s website to find some Section 8 information, I got to a relatively incomprehensible page detailing the program. HUD’s explanations of contract rent, tenant/owner obligations, and contract expiration are long-winded and confusing. Current requirements are mixed in with program history, creating a seemingly inharmonious network of program guidelines. No wonder our clients are having a hard time figuring the details out!

A lack of information about the details, however, doesn’t mean our clients are ignorant of the housing situation they’re facing today. On the contrary, they seem to be very aware of the dwindling affordable housing opportunities. One client I spoke with told me a story about how his friend was forced out of her home because a condo developer bought it and she couldn’t afford to pay for the new place. He recognized that this was becoming a common practice, and that the decreasing rental property supply was driving up the price of rent.

The same client told me that he had a friend that was denied from Section 8, but she didn’t understand why. Another client told me his friends, “had to have patience” when they applied for Section 8. According to The Common Denominator, between 40,000-50,000 DC residents were on the waiting list for government housing assistance in the form of public housing units or Section 8 vouchers as of August 2004. 12,000 Section 8 assisted units were available then; since, that number has dwindled to less than 10,000. Although most of the lost units were due to expiring contracts, these numbers highlight something our clients have already figured out: even if they do apply for Section 8 housing assistance, it will be a long and arduous wait.

Correction: the DCHA wait list applies to Housing Choice Vouchers, while the lost units refer to project-based Section 8 housing.

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