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Phoenix housing vouchers in short supply for Arizona families

The Phoenix Housing Department hopes to reopen its waitlist sometime in 2023
housing AP
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jan 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-06 08:20:04-05

PHOENIX — With higher rents, increased inflation, and a lack of available units, finding an affordable apartment is a big challenge. One-way affordable housing is provided to low-income families is through the federally funded Housing Choice Voucher program - formerly known as Section 8.

Tenants with low incomes can rent from private landlords and pay 30% of their monthly income toward rent and utilities with a voucher making up the difference.

In Phoenix, there are more renters than landlords.

"Now more than ever, the need for affordable, safe, decent housing in the community is relevant," said Elenia Sotelo, Housing manager with the Phoenix Housing Department.

Phoenix Housing Department Director Titus Matthew says thousands of people are on the waitlist for a voucher in Phoenix. No new applicants have been accepted since the waitlist opened in 2016. That means some people have been waiting years for help.

Matthew and Sotelo agreed the amount of resources is not sufficient for the amount of need in the community.

Phoenix overtook Philadelphia to become the fifth-largest city in the U.S. in recent years. However, data from the U.S. Department of Urban Development shows the Philadelphia Housing Authority receives three times more vouchers than Phoenix Housing Authority.

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Philadelphia vouchers

Even some renters who already have vouchers have trouble finding a place to live.

"I kept calling and they said we're not accepting section 8 anymore," recalled Margaret. She lived in the same apartment for 22 years, until the property stopped accepting housing vouchers. She spent hours on the computer and quickly found many other complexes were doing the same thing.

While searching for an apartment using a Housing Choice Voucher, voucher holders are often met with "no."

No, we don't accept vouchers.

No, your subsidies are too low for the high rents.

To recruit more landlords, Phoenix Housing Department is offering incentives — $2,000 for accepting a 12-month contract with a voucher-holding tenant. That's $2,000 per unit.

However, some landlords tell ABC15 it takes too long for them to get paid rent after a tenant moves into a unit. Sotelo says delays can come down to paperwork and inspections required on the federal level.

"Once that's returned, we sign off and that authorizes housing authorities to provide housing assistance payments," Sotelo said. Federal law does provide 60 days for this. Sotelo encourages landlords to sign up for direct deposits to streamline the process.

The Phoenix Housing Department is also trying to stay competitive with the market as rents have increased. HUD released its annual Fair Market Rents report showing rents increasing nationally in 2022. These numbers are important because they're used to determine Payment Standards for vouchers - how much money can be paid on behalf of a voucher recipient. Vouchers are now worth more, making them more competitive in the apartment search. This helps current voucher holders but won't bring more people into the program because there's not enough money to go around.

Now back to Margaret.

The Let Joe Know team was able to help her find a new place accepting vouchers. It's been several months, and she tells us it's great, but she knows many people are still looking and finding nothing.

"I think it's going to be a lot of people on the street homeless," Margaret told us.

The Phoenix Housing Department hopes to reopen its waitlist sometime in 2023.

For voucher holders searching for a unit, the department suggests searching online, in newspapers, and by word of mouth.

For landlords interested in the program, you can learn more on Phoenix Housing Department's website.