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.
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?