Section 8 housing vouchers in short supply for Arizona families

Posted at 6:30 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 21:02:29-05

PHOENIX — One of the ways affordable housing is provided to low-income families is through the federally funded Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.

The program allows tenants with low-income to rent from private landlords and pay 30% of their monthly income toward rent and utilities with the voucher making up the difference.

But the wait for the voucher can take years. For 15 days in early 2020, the waiting list for Chandler’s Section 8 voucher list opened up.

Querida Harrell was one of the lucky few that was added. Soon after, COVID-19 hit, the single mother of six said the situation quickly got worse when her children had to be in school online.

Harrell said she could not continue to work her job as a home health aide and be home with her children during the day.

“I had to stay home and be a parent to them,” she told ABC15.

While she was able to eventually qualify for unemployment, she said the months-long wait landed her family in a shelter for three months.

She was paired with a case worker for UMOM, a non-profit that provides emergency and transitional housing for families experiencing homelessness.

The charity is helping her pay for the apartment which she is leasing for a year. But having been out of work for nearly a year she isn’t sure how she will afford rent when that help is gone.

Section 8 is funded by U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) using a poverty calculation for each area. But housing authorities for cities and counties administer the program and in Arizona the need far outweighs the resources.

The program that Harrell is on the waiting list for in Chandler will receive 486 in 2021. It needs 3,649. The wait averages three years.

ABC15 asked other housing authorities in the Valley about Section 8 waiting lists:

-Phoenix received 6,967 vouchers this year. It needs an additional 16,915. The estimated wait is about four years. But even getting on the wait list is a challenge. The last time it opened was in 2016. Before that was in 2005.

-Scottsdale said it had an allotment of 735 vouchers. Then approximately 1,300 people on its waiting list with an average three-to-four-year wait.

-Glendale received 1,054 vouchers. The waiting list has 253 people. Last time that list opened was 2019. The city did not provide its average wait time.

-Mesa has 1,000 people on its wait-list. However, it officials tell ABC15 they are going through 30 names each month.

-Maricopa County Housing Authority handles voucher allotment for the County, Surprise, and Gilbert. It received a total of 1,693 vouchers with a current waitlist of 2,566. The waitlist is two to three years.

But in some cities, there is a shortage of landlords who will accept the vouchers.

“We need more landlords,” Sheree Bouchee, Phoenix Affordable Housing program manager told ABC15. “Because then we can place people quicker and move through our waitlist quicker as well.”

Phoenix is offering $500 sign-on bonuses for landlords.

Glendale is not offering incentives to landlords but a spokesperson said the City Council approved using a federal grant to hire a person specifically to increase landlord participation in the program. It will be funded for three years.

Chandler offers $400 incentives, which could make Harrell’s wait just a little bit shorter.

“Having affordable housing and so I don't end up in a shelter again is the main thing I need,” she said. “I pretty much can manage everything else except for rent. It’s the hardest thing in life.”