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Thousands seek housing help: Wait list for vouchers growing, fewer landlords accepting them
April 23, 2015, 05:00 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal

As housing prices continue to skyrocket in the region, more individuals are asking the government to help them pay the rent.

More than 22,000 applications from individuals seeking rental assistance have flooded into the San Mateo County Housing Authority after it decided to expand a voucher program in 2013, according to a report released Wednesday.

Another 7,500 families already approved for support remain on various waiting lists for vouchers, according to the county’s housing indicators report for March.

The county, however, has a limited number of the vouchers, about 4,300, that are almost all entirely in use.

Trouble is, however, fewer landlords are accepting Section 8 vouchers as the rental market continues its climb.

“Utilization rates have been dropping steadily here as fewer and fewer landlords are accepting vouchers, which has put the county and local social service agencies in a bind. You get the ‘golden ticket’ and you can’t find any place to use it,” said Josh Hugg, program manager with the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County. 

The county’s Housing Authority is working on a variety of incentives to encourage greater participation and social service agencies such as Samaritan House and InnVision Shelter Network are hiring “Landlord Outreach Specialists” to help promote their acceptance, Hugg said.

It’s gotten so bad, some county officials have dubbed it a housing crisis.

The competition for rentals is so intense that families with vouchers are unable to use them, said Housing Authority Director Bill Lowell.

“Since the beginning of 2013, when we began to issue vouchers again after a hiatus caused by the federal budget sequestration debacle, 642 vouchers have expired because the families holding the vouchers have not been able to locate homes to rent,” Lowell said recently at a study session on housing.

Even with the subsidies being increased twice since October, voucher utilization is on the decline, Lowell said.

“The same thing is happening with our other rental subsidy programs for special populations, such as the Permanent Supportive Housing Program for homeless persons with disabilities,” Lowell said at the study session.

The report shows that 1,800 of the 22,000 applicants have been selected for eligibility interviews said the county added more than 800 households into a federal Housing and Urban Development Move-to-Work program. The county started accepting applications for the expanded program Jan. 13, 2014.

When one of the vouchers become available through turnover, applicants are selected through a lottery system and the average wait list time to get a voucher once approved is about three years, according to the report.

The subsidies depend on income and can reach beyond $1,000 a month per family.

The report shows that average market rents in San Mateo County have climbed for a one-bedroom unit by 47.4 percent to $2,425 a month in the past four years. For a two-bedroom unit, the average market rent is now $2,702, a 46 percent increase since 2011 and 13.2 percent increase since last year.

The average HUD fair market rent for a one bedroom is $1,635 and $2,062 for a two-bedroom unit, according to the report.

“The other issue is that the Fair Market Rent subsidy that the Section 8 voucher covers just isn’t enough to meet the rates that the market is charging,” Hugg said.

The median sales price for a single-family home in 2015 is $1.2 million, up from just over $1 million last year.

For a condominium or townhome, the median sales price in 2015 is $677,500 compared to $590,000 last year, according to the indicators report.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102



Tags: housing, vouchers, county, report, market, program,

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