NPR’s Planet Money podcast has cast its eye toward the “lottery” of Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. The episode offers an overview of the program, and breaks the illusion of the “social safety net” in the US – that instead of a cohesive net as an analogy, a “collection of band-aids” may be more appropriate. One young mother also shares her struggle to find housing assistance while not “homeless enough”. (Living precariously with friends, but not yet in a shelter) Highly recommended listening!
In yet more evidence supporting the importance of housing assistance, a new paper from the St Louis Federal Reserve finds that for every year that girls and women between the ages of 13 and 18 live in public housing, adult earnings increase by 9 percent; for each year that their families received housing vouchers, their adult earnings increase by 6 percent.
Last week, Senator Cantwell announced a national campaign to expand funding for the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. The proposed 50% increase would finance an estimated 35,000 affordable units in Washington State over the next decade, around 4,200 more units than would be possible under the status quo.
The LIHTC program is divided between noncompetitive “4%” tax credits and competitive “9%” tax credits. Both have the same funding mechanism, though the competitive “9%” level provides double the equity for housing projects, thus making it more feasible to serve households with incomes below 50% AMI, where Snohomish County’s greatest need is concentrated. The proposed increases would apply to the competitive program, and are sorely needed. Senator Cantwell’s office has also prepared a report on why this increase is needed, including an overview of what changes are being proposed.
Last Wednesday, we had great attendance at our first joint board meeting of 2016 and first meeting at HASCO’s Jackson House property, an affordable rental property for seniors in Everett. The agenda included welcoming new officers and joint board representatives, a discussion of Snohomish County’s proposed housing policy changes, and a discussion of barriers to the use of 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits in our county. For all the details, read on: Continue reading February 2016 Joint Board Meeting
The HUD Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program is a major source of housing assistance for households with the lowest incomes in Snohomish County. It’s an excellent tool, as the vouchers can be used in any unit that accepts the vouchers and meets rent and safety standards, theoretically promoting mixed-income neighborhoods and providing deep assistance more affordably than through traditional public housing models. At the same time, this flexibility also limits the program’s use, as landlords will be less likely to accept vouchers in a tight market, and finding an acceptable unit that meets set rent standards can also be a challenge. In
addition, the program is limited by federal funding, so the supply of vouchers does not come close to the demand. In Snohomish County, there are currently 6,183 vouchers in use, compared to around 68,000 households earning less than 50% Area Median Income. (This is the line where it typically starts to become more possible to find an affordable rental unit in Snohomish County)
The program is essentially a lottery at present, with years-long wait lists, if a housing authority’s wait list is even open at all. Contrast this with the SNAP program (AKA food stamps), an entitlement-type program, where all who earn less than a certain income level can receive assistance. Could we do this with housing assistance as well? A post over at City Commentary makes an interesting case as to how it could be possible. For a summary, read on. Continue reading How can we fund more housing vouchers?