For the first time in five years, the City of LA will open the Section 8 housing voucher waitlist next month. Typically, recipients pay 30% of their income towards rent, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pays the rest.
To qualify for vouchers, applicants must be U.S. citizens, non-citizens with legal immigration status, or "mixed families." Household annual income is capped at various tiers, which is determined by HUD as “extremely low,” “very low,” and “low.” The tiers vary depending on how many people are in a household. For example, at the “extremely low” level, a single person would make $25,050 max annually. That income is $41,700/year at the “very low” level, and $66,750/year at the “low” level.
LA is getting 30,000 of these vouchers, but there could be more than 10 times as many applicants, according to the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA). And for those who win the voucher lottery, it can be tough to find a landlord willing to use them.
Nevertheless, people are optimistic that they’ll get Section 8, says Chancela Al-Monsour, executive director of the Housing Rights Center, a nonprofit in Southern California dedicated to securing and promoting fair housing.
The last time the Section 8 waitlist opened was in 2017, and before that, applicants had to wait 13 years, she points out.
Once a person or a household is granted a Section 8 voucher, they have 180 days to secure a rental unit. In LA, it is illegal to discriminate against or refuse to consider tenants with these vouchers.
However, the stigma is still here, she suggests. “Some landlords rely on really old stereotypes and bad stereotypes of what a tenant is. We have had clients who are wonderful tenants, have been tenants in their units for 20-something years. They've been on the waiting list or on the previous waiting list, they finally got their Section 8 voucher, take it to their landlord, and the landlord doesn't want to take it, which is illegal.”
She adds, “It doesn't make any sense because you get guaranteed income every month, regardless of whether or not the tenant may have their financial difficulties.”
Al-Monsour says that while finding housing can be extremely difficult, once Section 8 tenants successfully do so, they will often try their best to keep it. “Landlords should know that tenants with Section 8 vouchers understand and appreciate the value of that Section 8 voucher. They're not, for the large part, going to do anything to jeopardize losing that Section 8 voucher.”
The Section 8 program also helps people in emergency situations, who desperately need shelter.
Los Angeles Times reporter Connor Sheets looked into the emergency housing vouchers in LA. He found that this area has not done a great job at handing them out to the neediest people — in comparison to San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
“[The other cities] have used all of the emergency housing vouchers that were issued by HUD. They’ve gotten people housed and actually got more [vouchers] for doing such a good job getting them out there. Meanwhile, LA's only really gotten a few hundred people housed out of the thousands of vouchers that they've received. So there's been some controversy over that issue.”
Sheets says that’s partly due to the challenges of working with landlords who don’t want to accept Section 8.
Between 2015 and 2020, LA also returned $150 million worth of grants to the federal government. That money was supposed to go towards housing LA’s homeless population.
“Some of these permanent supportive housing projects take a long time to build, and some of the money has to go back if they don't spend it in time. Some of it has these issues with the rental market, and there's just a whole litany of things that make it difficult to spend that money, according to the housing agencies,” he explains.
Applications for the Section 8 housing waitlist open on October 17, and more details about the process will be available on October 4 via HACLA.org.