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Line for Sacramento’s subsidized housing waiting list grows longer by the day

Here's Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg proposing city fund for housing, infrastructure, art

Mayor Darrell Steinberg talks about establishing a multibillion-dollar fund that would pay for local infrastructure, affordable housing, arts and culture amenities, as well as incentives to attract new industries to the city.
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Mayor Darrell Steinberg talks about establishing a multibillion-dollar fund that would pay for local infrastructure, affordable housing, arts and culture amenities, as well as incentives to attract new industries to the city.

In a stark illustration of the demand for affordable housing in Sacramento County, nearly 35,000 people have applied over the past eight days to join a waiting list for subsidized rental units, officials said Thursday.

As of Thursday, 34,766 applicants had entered the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency’s lottery for a place on the waiting list for the Housing Choice Voucher program, formerly known as Section 8, said agency spokeswoman Angela Jones.

Only 7,000 slots are available, and those who receive them might have to wait two years before suitable housing becomes available.

Applications are being accepted online only, at www.sacwaitlist.com, around the clock through 11:59 p.m. Jan. 30.

More than 46,000 people applied for housing vouchers the last time SHRA opened the waiting list, in September 2014. Sarah Thomas, assistant director of the Housing Choice Voucher program, said the number could top 50,000 by next week’s deadline.

“I’m not surprised,” said Bob Erlenbusch of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness. “These numbers show how desperate the need is in this market for truly affordable and accessible housing.”

Eligibility is based primarily on income. A family of three can earn no more than $33,400 per year to qualify for a place on the voucher list. Individuals or families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, along with military veterans and people with disabilities, will receive priority, Thomas said.

Once the application deadline passes, 7,000 applicants will be selected from a random computerized process to join the waiting list. They will be notified once housing becomes available, which Thomas said could take as long as “one to two” years.

Under the program, families generally pay landlords in the private market about 30 percent of their income toward rent and utilities in apartments or homes that fall within SHRA’s financial guidelines. The federal Housing and Urban Development Agency, through the local housing authority, pays the difference. Recipients of the subsidies must find landlords willing to accept the vouchers, which can be a challenge, according to housing advocates.

To help address the Sacramento area’s growing homelessness and affordable housing crises, Mayor Darrell Steinberg this week proposed spending $21 million over the next three years to subsidize construction of hundreds of small homes.

During the annual State of Downtown address at Memorial Auditorium on Tuesday, Steinberg said the city would ask for concepts from the development community to build up to 1,000 “efficient housing opportunities.” He proposed using hundreds of public housing vouchers at the city’s disposal to finance new construction of the small homes “by providing a source of ongoing rental subsidy.” He said the law allows the city to use vouchers to help people cover rent at existing units or help finance new housing options.

The mayor also called on the private sector to raise $20 million for housing and homeless shelters. He said that Sutter Health has agreed to donate $5 million to the cause if a matching $5 million is found.

Erlenbusch pointed to a state code that allows cities and counties to declare an “emergency shelter crisis,” which would allow public facilities to be used as emergency shelters, as well as loosen the zoning requirements for siting emergency shelter programs.

Such action would help prevent neighborhood groups from blocking such projects out of fear that property values might decrease, he said. The prevailing attitude, he said, is known as “BANANA – or Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.”

Cynthia Hubert: 916-321-1082, @Cynthia_Hubert

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