Section 8 Reopens
Hurry up ... and wait!
Eight years ago, Austin residents waited in line for hours just to get their names on a waiting list for the federal rental assistance voucher program known as "Section 8." This month, the Housing Authority of the City of Austin is opening its waiting list for the first time since 2006 – and the time required to add one's name to the hopper has been whittled down from hours to minutes, because HACA has moved the process online. So those seeking to enroll in the Section 8 program can handle the preapplication work online – at www.austin.apply4housing.com – any time between Oct. 22-29.
Of course, not everyone has computer skills or access to computers, so HACA is lining up nonprofits and social services agencies to help target and assist those residents with the preapplication process. An alternative option for the elderly or people with disabilities is to apply by phone, 888/262-3949.
The bad news is that the demand for affordable housing is much greater now than it was eight years ago. Housing officials expect anywhere between 20,000 and 40,000 people to apply – for a mere 2,500 slots available on the waiting list. HACA has retained an outside firm, Emphasys, to conduct an online lottery to select 2,500 names, so it makes no difference whether a person applies on the first day of the preapplication period or in the waning hours of the last day. Prospective applicants can check the same website about 45 days after the closing period to see if their name appears on the list.
"The way the voucher program works is that we're given a fixed allotment of vouchers and a fixed allotment of money," Michael Roth, HACA admissions director, explained. "We have roughly 5,800 families participating in the voucher program. On a monthly basis there are some [families or individuals] who go off the program for a variety [of] reasons – either they're successful, they no longer need the assistance, they passed away, or they're no longer in compliance." As families leave the program, names are drawn from a waiting list to replace them. "We brought on about 7,000 names [from 2006] that we've been using to draw from whenever we're replacing families on the voucher list," Roth said. "We've finally exhausted the waiting list, and we want to make sure we have names added to the list so that as people continue to move off the program we'll be able to assist more families."
Not to be confused with HACA's public housing program, the rental assistance program provides low-income individuals and families with vouchers to help pay for apartments or rental houses in the private market throughout Austin. The goal of the program is to keep the amount that low-income residents pay for rent capped at about 30% of their monthly income. A complete list of eligibility requirements is available at www.hacanet.org.
While there isn't a definitive list of landlords who accept Section 8 vouchers, the best bet is to check the www.gosection8.com website, where property owners who accept the vouchers post available apartments. Apartment locators are also a good source for identifying landlords who accept vouchers, Roth said. And City Council recently moved to enact an ordinance (still in preparation) forbidding "source of income discrimination" to protect renters using vouchers.
For more information about the waiting list, the lottery process, or how to check your status or eligibility requirements for Section 8, visit www.hacanet.org/apply/hcv.php.