After four years, Section 8 waiting list to reopen

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The waiting list for city public housing vouchers is set to reopen, which means that for the first time in four years, low-income residents can have the opportunity to get rent subsidies.

Noah Schwartz, the executive director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA), says that the Section 8 Rental Voucher Waiting List will reopen “in the near future.” Schwartz says the department is unable to release a specific date at this time.

The last time the waiting list was open was 2004. The sheer number of people who applied forced the housing authority to close the list until all of them were helped. Schwartz says it is normal for the list not to be open for long.

“We get calls from all over the country asking if our waiting list is open,” says Schwartz. “Charlottesville is a nice place to live.”

Section 8 is a federally funded program that enables the local public housing authority to pay landlords the difference between 30 percent of household income and the authority-determined payment standard, which is 80 to 100 percent of the fair market rent. Local landlords participating in the program include Woodard Properties, Ray Cadell with Century 21, and Mallside Forest Apartments.

If a person has no income at all, then CRHA would pay for 100 percent of the rent. The likelihood of that happening is slim, says Schwartz. For example, if a landlord charges $800 a month for a two-bedroom apartment and the tenant’s annual income is around $14,400—an average for very low-income recipients in the city—public housing pays $560 and the tenant the remaining $240.

“This is not an anti-poverty program,” says Schwartz. “It is a rent-subsidy program.”

The purpose of the Section 8 program is to give low income families an opportunity to get back on their feet with money to help pay rent. City Housing Manager Rebecca Weybright says Section 8 is intended only as a stepping stone. “The program helps folks to become self-sufficient,” she says. “I know of a woman who, after getting a job, called us to be taken off the list. She was independent.”

In the city, about 300 families have applied to be on the list, but both Schwartz and Weybright are expecting that number to considerably increase once the list is opened up again. “I’d say around 1,500 people will be on the waiting list,” says Schwartz.

When people apply, upon contact with CRHA they are subject to an income check, a background check and a criminal check. “Having a criminal background does not disqualify an applicant,” says Weybright. “But the barrier crime is arrest for dealing any illegal substance.”

A majority of recipients of Section 8 vouchers are African Americans and single mothers who work and, on average, end up paying 60 to 70 percent of their income on rent. Homeless people, senior citizens and people who have been involuntarily displaced by a natural disaster have all received rent money.

Weybright and Schwartz both acknowledge the lack of Latinos applying for the subsidies. “For one thing, we have so many forms that they need to fill out,” says Weybright. “And we ask them for so many things, like their birth certificates, their social security numbers, and for some, it’s overwhelming.”

Many low-income families prefer Section 8 for the freedom to choose where they want to live, as opposed to public housing. There are 376 public housing units in various neighborhoods around the city. They are all at full capacity.

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