Housing authority to open rent voucher wait list

Housing authority to open rent voucher wait list

Michele Ellson

Alameda’s housing authority is preparing to open the wait list for its Section 8 rent voucher program next week, the first time in a dozen years new spots have been available.

People who apply will face stiff competition for a spot on the list, while the lucky few who succeed in winning one will face a tough rental market.

“We would love to talk more with (property owners) who would like to know more about the program,” said Vanessa M. Cooper, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Alameda. “But we realize the market is really tight at the moment.”

The application process will be online only this year, Cooper said, to accommodate the tens of thousands of people housing authority staffers expect will apply; the authority's Miriam Delagrange told the City Council on Tuesday staffers expect up to 70,000 people to apply. After the application process closes, the authority will conduct a random, computerized lottery to pick 750 individuals and families for a spot on the waiting list.

After the lottery is completed, the list will be prioritized based on factors that include residency, disability and whether a senior or veteran lives in the household, and vouchers will be issued in that order.

Eligibility for Section 8 assistance is based on income, and Cooper said she expects to see more applicants on fixed incomes this time out – seniors and people with disabilities – along with some working families. The maximum income a single person can earn and still be eligible for Section 8 assistance is $32,200; for a family of four, it’s $46,000.

Once on the list, families and individuals can expect wait up to five years and possibly longer before receiving a voucher.

Of the 1,845 households that have been on prior lists and received vouchers from the city’s housing authority, 50 are still looking for a place to rent, Cooper said. They’re entering a Bay Area market where housing is scarce – even for people who can pay the going rate to rent – and prices are escalating.

“If the market has increased, even at our maximum payment standard, it’s difficult to match what landlords are asking,” Cooper said. “We’re having difficulties finding units in Alameda.”

A list of rentals for voucher holders posted to the housing authority’s website showed just two apartments for rent.

Recently released data on asking rents at large Alameda complexes showed the average asking rent rose more than 13 percent between 2013 and 2014 and that the complexes were basically full. A cursory search of Craigslist rental listings showed few units available for the amount of money the voucher program pays.

Of the roughly 40 two-bedroom apartments listings on Craigslist between January 14 and Tuesday (excluding units listed multiple times), just three were for less than the $1,743 maximum monthly voucher payout for a unit of that size (the maximums are supposed to cover rent and essential utilities). Some were renting for more than $3,000 a month.

Only about a half dozen studio apartments were listed for rent on Craigslist over that same week, and just two of those were renting for less than the $1,142 a Section 8 voucher would cover.

Alameda residents who are receiving assistance here can “port out” to another city if they can’t find a place here. But newcomers who have been on the Island for less than 12 months can only use the vouchers here.

Cooper said the city’s housing authority is grateful for the 500 or landlords working with its Section 8 program. “They have stuck with us with markets going up and down, and we really appreciate that,” she said.

But she’s hoping to increase that number.

“This is an important federal resource that comes to the City of Alameda, and this is a way for us to maintain a stable, diverse, thriving community,” she said.

Applications can be completed on a computer, smart phone or tablet between 10 a.m. January 29 and 9:59 a.m. February 3; no paper applications will be accepted. Applicants must have a valid e-mail address to apply.

Anyone who doesn’t have Internet access or needs assistance can apply at one of 11 places in Alameda, Oakland and San Leandro. Local organizations offering on-site application assistance include Mastick Senior Center, the Alameda Point Collaborative, the College of Alameda One-Stop Center, the Islamic Center of Alameda and the Boys & Girls Club of Alameda.

The housing authority isn’t taking live phone calls or answering questions in person; information and applications are available on its website.


Submitted by David (not verified) on Thu, Jan 22, 2015

It's unclear to me why rent control advocates aren't lobbying for a) greater promotion of the Section 8 program to landlords, to pull more units into Section 8, and b) aren't lobbying for increased funding for Section 8 housing in general.

The inspections under Section 8 take care of a lot of the issues of 'substandard' units and health and safety issues. The section 8 maximum voucher amount is supposed to be updated routinely to keep pace with rents, and for the landlord, there's greater piece of mind in cashing a Section 8 rent payment check than in cashing a tenant's check.

I suspect may people who oppose rent control would support the expansion of Section 8. (In other words, it's not solely about political ideologies.)

Submitted by Denia (not verified) on Thu, Jan 22, 2015

It is not clear from the AHA's materials approximately how many vouchers they currently have available but it is not 750. That is the max number of applicants they will hold on their waiting list, not the number of individuals/families they will actually be able to assist at this time.

That said, the number of Sec 8 vouchers, not just in Alameda, but nationwide, does not come close to assisting all of our vulnerable neighbors in dire need of decent and affordable housing. The Section 8 program is just one of the meager few resources that are still available.

Whether everyone agrees it is productive or not, rent stabilization is viewed by many as another much needed tool to help ensure that none of us are forced to live in substandard conditions.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Fri, Jan 23, 2015

Tenants should learn the law and take advantage of the right to make repairs to fix substandard conditions and deduct the cost from the rent.

Rather than forcing improvements to substandard conditions, rent control is just as likely to leave tenants living in substandard conditions - without having them remedied - at a statute-limited rent.

If there are genuine health-and-safety "substandard condition" issues that need to be fixed by the landlord, they way to get them fixed is already established - repair and deduct, call in inspectors, etc. Rent control isn't going to make repairs.