I’ve worked in affordable housing for over 35 years. Fresh out of college, I was hired to help run a Section 8 rental assistance program in Salt Lake City, Utah. I knew little about the program but found out quickly what a precious and scarce resource Section 8 rent subsidies are for those struggling to afford a decent place to live.
From the very beginning of my work experience, I found myself connecting the words “waiting list” to “Section 8”. A phrase I learned quickly, and sadly have repeated thousands of times since, is this: “I’m so sorry -- the waiting list for Section 8 is currently closed.”
In the intervening years since, I’ve had to share these sad words over and over again to senior citizens, disabled veterans, single parents with small children, people who suddenly found themselves without the job they thought was secure, to those who have been debilitated by sudden illness.
The Section 8 program administered by BHA is funded by HUD, using dollars appropriated by Congress. The money given to BHA currently supports about 1,450 households with rental assistance. The number of households in Bremerton who would qualify for the Section 8 program, if full funding were available is, about 18,000. Yes, 18,000. That’s over 10 times more than we currently have funds to assist.
We're opening the Section 8 Wait List for applications. What this really means is we are holding a lottery for the opportunity to be placed on the Section 8 Wait List. A total of 300 names will be randomly pulled for placement on the list. If recent history can be used to predict how many applications will be electronically received, the total number will be over 3,000. Yes, 3,000+ applications for 300 slots on the wait list. That’s less than a one-in-ten chance of being selected. Once on the list, those fortunate 300 will wait anywhere from one month to 2 years to receive a Section 8 voucher. For those not selected, they’ll have to wait another 1-2 years to try again. Sadly, the scarcity of Section 8 rental assistance is the same in virtually every community in America.
So what do we do? How can BHA meet its vision of everyone having the opportunity for a home that is safe and affordable? First, we must maximize the limited funds we have for the Section 8 program. We do this by spending 100% of the money given to us by HUD and Congress. Second, we ensure that those receiving rental assistance are fully qualified and strictly adhere to program rules. Third, we cultivate relationships with local rental property owners so Section 8 participants can find appropriate housing once they receive assistance. Finally, we look for creative ways to expand funding for rental assistance programs. In this latter regard, BHA is earnestly working with the City of Bremerton to create a local rental assistance program using funds allocated from the city’s general fund. We appreciate the city’s support and look forward to working with them on a creative and cooperative program to address housing instability in Bremerton.
Those seeking rental assistance shouldn’t be told, “… sorry, the Section 8 wait list is closed …” in their time of economic crisis.
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