Starting Aug. 21, the San Luis Obispo County Housing Authority will begin accepting applications for federal low-income housing vouchers — an in-demand program that has caused debate at two recent county Board of Supervisors meetings.
The application period will run from Aug. 21 through Sept. 10 and as many as 500 applicants will be chosen for the program’s waiting list, said Scott Smith, Housing Authority executive director.
Those who qualify will be granted Housing Choice Vouchers as they become available, Smith said. The Housing Authority has awarded the last batch of vouchers off the current waiting list and is ready to generate a new one. Housing Choice Vouchers are often called Section 8 vouchers.
They are intended to keep elderly, disabled and low-income individuals and families from becoming homeless.
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“The demand is huge,” Smith said. “I expect we will get 2,500 applications.”
The county is allocated 2,100 vouchers by the federal government. Five hundred applicants will be randomly selected and placed on the waiting list if they qualify. The demand for the vouchers is driven by the expensive housing market and the inability of lower income residents to afford rent, particularly the disabled and mentally ill, said County Supervisor Adam Hill.
“I know the waiting list is long,” he said. “The need is much greater than the demand, which is not surprising.”
Those not selected to be among the 500 can reapply when the list reopens in 12 to 18 months, Smith said.
To qualify, an applicant must meet certain income guidelines. For example, a single parent of two children can earn no more than $34,700 per year. Those in the program pay 30 percent of their income toward rent and the voucher covers the rest. Participation by landlords in the program is voluntary.
“It’s a real tight rental market in general countywide so we are trying to work with landlords to educate them and make the program as user friendly as possible,” Smith said.
Jim Patterson, an Atascadero resident and former county supervisor, said the voucher program is needed because the rental market in San Luis Obispo County is one of the most expensive in the nation.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are 102,154 households in San Luis Obispo County and 42 percent of those are renters. A household would need an annual income of $52,360 to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment in the county.
The county’s Homeless Services Oversight Council has recommended that county supervisors adopt a plank in the county’s legislative platform supporting state legislation that would prohibit landlords from using vouchers as the sole reason for not renting someone an apartment.
In February and again July 21, supervisors debated whether to set a hearing to consider adding such a plank to the legislative platform. Both times, the idea was voted down 3-2 with supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson in favor and supervisors Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton and Frank Mecham opposed.
Hill said he supports the legislation as a means of fighting blatant discrimination.
“We have a job to be advocates for people who don’t have voices in our community,” he said.
Arnold, on the other hand, said she did not want to put any additional burdens on landlords.
“I’d rather see us use a carrot approach with landlords,” she said.
For more information about the Housing Choice Voucher program and to apply for a voucher, go to the web site for the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo at www.haslo.org.