Thanks to continued growth of the King County Housing Authority’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, the number of low-income households in King County receiving rental assistance has more than doubled in the last decade. This week, KCHA hit the 10,000 voucher mark in its efforts to provide rent subsidies to poor families and elderly and disabled households in King County outside of Seattle and Renton. The program now supports approximately 23,000 people including 2,247 elderly individuals, 4,006 persons with disabilities, and 11,337 children. The program served 4,700 households in 2000.
“I’m pleased that we’ve been able to rise to the challenge,” said KCHA Executive Director Stephen Norman. “Despite the fact that the Housing Choice Voucher Program has suffered from varying degrees of underfunding by Congress over the past decade, KCHA has made it a point to go after every available housing voucher in order to serve as many King County residents in need of safe, affordable shelter as possible. Even with this level of growth, unfortunately, we’re not able to keep up with the level of need in the community.”
As wage rates and fixed support payments such as Social Security have increasingly lagged behind housing costs, more and more households in the region have been forced to pay more for housing than they can afford. The federal government defines households that pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities as “shelter-burdened”. In King County, nearly 310,000 households pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities. This figure is up 13 percent from 2000. In 2007, during the two-week period in which the waiting list for Section 8 rental assistance was last open, the Authority received 10,178 applications.
The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program limits participant’s payments to 30 percent to 40 percent of their income and provides rental subsidies – funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and managed by KCHA – to private landlords on behalf of participating households to make up the difference. More than 3,200 landlords participate in the program with KCHA. The subsidy allows program participants to find reasonably priced housing in the private market.
“Section 8 is a marvelous program that helps out a lot of people,” said Patricia Sewell, a landlord who owns apartment units in South King County. “Over the years, I’ve seen numerous families gain stability and improve the quality of their lives because of it. A lot of good folks wouldn’t be able to afford decent housing and keep their lives together without this program.”
“The increasing number of households who are paying more than 30 percent of their income for rent are under tremendous stress, with very few housing options,” said Bill Block, project director of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County. “Without a program like Section 8, they face a choice between substandard housing, overcrowded conditions or such high rent burdens as to place them on the edge of homelessness. Section 8 allows the families to have stable, affordable housing, which is the essential foundation for the parents and children being productive contributors to our community.”
The King County Housing Authority has utilized the program to address a number of key regional housing goals:
- Reducing the number of severely rent burdened households
- Broadening geographic choices for poor households
- Financing the revitalization of aging public housing complexes, and
- Supporting regional efforts to end homelessness.
The growth of the program is attributable to a number of reasons, with the single largest factor being KCHA’s success in applying for new vouchers distributed competitively by HUD. Since 1998, KCHA has received 2,754 vouchers through national competitions. Many of these vouchers have been targeted towards special-needs populations including disabled individuals and families being reunited with children in foster care. Currently, Section 8 vouchers are being used in partnership with a broad range of service providers to house at-risk households including homeless veterans and domestic violence victims.
“VA and KCHA have developed a strong and growing partnership to serve homeless veterans through the HUD/VASH Program (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing – a Section 8 program that provides permanent housing subsidies and case management, clinical and supportive services to homeless veterans with significant case management needs) and the Housing Access and Services Program (a Section 8 program targeted to people with disabilities),” said VA Puget Sound Homeless Program Coordinator Kathy Gerard. “The King County Housing Authority has been a great partner in our quest to end homelessness among veterans”.
A second area of growth has been through the conversion of public housing to Section 8 vouchers. In some instances, this conversion has enabled the Authority to issue debt against the property to support badly needed renovations. In the case of the Springwood Apartments, a public housing community in Kent, conversion supported a complex refinancing that raised $50 million to substantially rehabilitate the development and address years of deferred maintenance caused by federal budget cuts. The renovations to the 262 units, now renamed Birch Creek, will be completed early this coming summer.
In the case of Park Lake I and II, large public housing complexes in White Center, conversion has enabled KCHA to shift subsidized housing to other areas of the county which lack affordable housing for the workforce employed in low-wage jobs. Two hundred and sixty-eight vouchers were shifted from White Center to more affluent neighborhoods, primarily in East King County, providing program participants the opportunity to live closer to jobs and in strongly performing school systems.
“Section 8 vouchers have proved to be the most effective resource to assist the neediest households in East King County, many of whom are employed in the area but can’t afford local rents,” said Arthur Sullivan, program manager of A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH). “Creating housing opportunities with Section 8 vouchers has been one of the highest priorities for cities in East King County, who work together on affordable housing issues through ARCH. KCHA’s efforts to partner with ARCH have been invaluable in increasing access to the vouchers in our communities.”
KCHA has also seen an increase in households with vouchers issued by other housing authorities moving into the area to take advantage of work opportunities. While this has abated somewhat with the current recession, there is still a steady stream of households moving with a voucher from Seattle in search of more affordable housing. There has been a net increase of 1,100 voucher holders who have moved to KCHA’s jurisdiction with vouchers over the past decade.
KCHA administers a range of quality affordable rental and homeownership programs in the Puget Sound region. The Authority serves about 18,000 families and elderly and disabled households on a daily basis.