Update: This story was updated Jan. 26 to note the deadline has been extended to Feb. 9.
A Sacramento program that’s been compared to a slow-moving lottery for subsidized housing vouchers will open its waitlist this week for the first time in three years. The chances, however, of getting a spot and eventually a voucher remain slim.
The federally-funded program provides vouchers for approximately 13,000 low-income families and individuals across the county. It is administered by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) which places applicants on the list after a random selection.
Those who receive the much-coveted vouchers must find a landlord willing to accept them. They pay 30% of their income toward rent and SHRA pays the rest.
But it can take years to actually receive a voucher, because the program is currently full and federal funding hasn’t expanded much in recent years, said Sarah O’Daniel, SHRA’s deputy executive director.
The only way people move up on the list is through turnover, essentially when a household with a voucher no longer needs it or gets taken off the list. O’Daniel said SHRA handed out vouchers to about 600 new families last year.
When the list last opened in 2018, 43,000 people applied for 7,000 spots, so there’s no guarantee applicants will secure a spot this month, let alone receive a voucher.
“There is a high demand and we anticipate a similar high demand this time around,” O’Daniel said. “There are so many people that are being evicted. They just cannot afford the rents here in Sacramento County. They have just been skyrocketing over the last few years. And so there is just a very, very high need for affordable housing in general.”
SHRA has whittled down its old waitlist, but still has “a few hundred” households remaining on it, O’Daniel said.
Who is eligible?
To qualify for the new waitlist, applicants must meet household income requirements of at or below 50% of the area’s median income, O’Daniel said. For a household with one person, that means income can not exceed $31,750; in a two-person household, the income cap is $36,250. For a household with three people, the limit is $40,800, and with four people, it is $45,300.
O’Daniel said people with low credit scores or past evictions can apply. The program does not automatically exclude people with a criminal record, though individuals with convictions for certain violent crimes and those registered as sex offenders are not elligible.
At least one family member listed on the voucher application must be a U.S. citizen or legal immigrant to be eligible.
Landlords have their own screening and criminal background rules and might reject applicants who are otherwise accepted by SHRA.
How to apply for the waitlist
SHRA’s Housing Choice waitlist application period opens at 8 a.m. on Wednesday and runs through 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 26. Applicants can use any device with internet access to apply at www.sacwaitlist.com.
They must have an email address to submit a pre-application form, the agency said. There is no charge to apply.
Waiting list preferences are given to families who are homeless or rent burdened, have a family member who is a veteran, have a family member who is disabled, and who live or work in Sacramento County.
SHRA will also open waitlists at 8 a.m. on Wednesday until further notice for specific affordable housing projects. Those include:
- Mirasol Village Project-Based Voucher
- Elderly Project-Based Voucher for those 62 years or older
- Single Room Occupancy Rehabilitation Program
For more information on the waitlists, visit the SHRA website.
Why does it take so long to receive a voucher?
SHRA administers more than a dozen housing voucher programs and each has a waitlist, O’Daniel said. Households can spend anywhere from 18 months to two years waiting for the benefit once on the list, she added.
Long voucher wait times are common nationwide, according to Mary Ellen Shay, a former manager at the California Association of Housing Authorities. The wait can last a decade in some cases, and that doesn’t guarantee a landlord will accept the benefit, she added.
“The waiting lists are thousands of people long. It’s a lottery. If you are lucky enough to have your name called, you get to go on a waiting list,” Shay said.
So why such a long wait?
“The answer is really simple: There is an overwhelming demand from income-qualified households and a lack of supply,” of vouchers, Shay said.
More funding for vouchers could come through the federal Build Back Better Act, but that legislation is stalled in the U.S. Senate.
Still, more vouchers are only useful if cities and counties build more affordable housing options, O’Daniel said. She added, “what’s the point?” of the vouchers if there’s nowhere to use them.
Looking for a place to call home
Those who do get a voucher must then compete in a marketplace with soaring rents and choosy landlords. That’s where 68-year-old Karen Clark finds herself.
Clark hasn’t had a permanent home in four years but received a voucher from SHRA in October. For the past 21 months, she’s lived in a Rancho Cordova motel room through a statewide homelessness program called Project Roomkey.
She’s hoping the voucher will lead her to a stable home, but the process has been vexing.
“It has been incredibly difficult getting someone to accept the voucher,” Clark said. “They won’t even let you apply for the apartment if you have an eviction.”
A law signed in 2019 by Gov. Gavin Newsom prohibits landlords in the state from rejecting tenants based solely on their use of the vouchers. But it does nothing to require that they accept voucher holders, Shay noted.
Clark said she believes the discrimination continues.
“I’m a good person. I’m a good tenant,” she said. “I’m not some scary homeless person. I’m just a grandma looking for a place of my own.”
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.