From Next City:
"The need for this program far exceeds available resources.”
That was how the Housing Authority of the City of Austin put it when it reopened its waitlist for Housing Choice Vouchers last September for the first time in four years. The Housing Choice Voucher program, which was previously known as Section 8, helps low-income families make up the difference between the cost of rent on the private market and what they’re able to afford. In 2014, the last time the Authority opened the waitlist, it got 20,000 applicants. It whittled them down to 2,500 through a lottery. It was expecting to do the same again last year, randomly selecting another 2,000 applicants just to get in the line for a voucher.
But even when a family gets a voucher, says Michael Gerber, president and CEO of the housing authority, they may find it very difficult to find a landlord who will accept it. As Next City has reported before, Texas landlords are allowed to reject tenants based on their source of income. And like a lot of growing cities, Austin is facing a critical shortage of affordable housing across the board, which is especially acute at the lowest end of the income scale.
“While a housing authority I don’t think has a responsibility for fixing all of [the housing shortage], we certainly feel a responsibility to try to address it as best we can,” Gerber says. “It’s hard to say to that resident, ‘Here’s a housing choice voucher. We know you’re not going to be able to use it.’”
So as part of its effort to make more housing available to voucher holders, the housing authority is continuing to expand a strategy of acquiring housing units on the private market and making some of them affordable for low and moderate-income people. Recently, the housing authority, in partnership with the affordable-housing investment group Community Development Trust, bought a 452-unit apartment complex in Southeast Austin, as the Austin American-Statesman reported. The authority is planning to rent the units to tenants earning no more than 80 percent of median family income, which works out to $48,200 for an individual or $68,800 for a family of four. And it’s planning to market at least 15 percent of the units to voucher holders and tenants receiving assistance through HUD’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program.
Read Next City's article "Austin Housing Authority Buys Private Apartments to Rent to Section 8 Tenants," featuring the Housing Authority of the City of Austin.