BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — With around 20,000 low-income residents, the Housing Authority of the County of Kern said opening the waitlist for housing vouchers will help provide critically needed assistance in our community. But the demand in the area is outpacing the supply of vouchers which is another issue the Housing Authority is trying to tackle.
Each year the county receives enough funding for 3,700 households, but we know the number of low-income residents is about five times that. This is why so many people have already applied since it re-opened again after 10 years. Due to that timeline, changes are coming to the program.
Heather Kimmel, with the Housing Authority of the County of Kern, explained the limited vouchers are based on what the state distributes, but since they cannot request more funds, it puts Kern County in a difficult spot.
“It is really challenging when you see thousands of people applying for assistance, and you know you don’t have enough voucher assistance to meet that demand and when you feel helpless about increasing the program to meet the need,” said Kimmel.
The last time the application was opened a decade ago, the Housing Authority received about 17,000 applications.
“The policy, during that time, was to not open the application again until we had gone through all those applications and at least offered a voucher to everybody who had applied and screen them. So, we finally exhausted that waiting list from 2012,” explained Kimmel.
What Changes are Coming to the Voucher Program?
Now they are creating a new one, and since the application opened on Friday, around 4,000 people applied. Now they are changing the policy on how the list works.
“We are now going to be opening the list every year. If you chose to remain on the list, you will have to apply again but it creates an opportunity for everybody to have access to the program on a yearly basis. It is not realistic to think our community stays the same, and their needs stay the same over a ten-year period.”
The program will continue to be based on a lottery system, which means it does not matter when you apply as long as you get the paperwork in before the February 28th deadline.
They anticipate receiving around 20,000 applications and expect to have around 400 vouchers to distribute this year.
“We are working on several developments right now to increase and contribute to the stock of affordable housing units in Bakersfield and the larger Kern County. We cannot do it alone. There need to be additional investors coming into the area developing affordable housing alongside of us.”
The application is open until February 28, it is only available online, and will be picked based on a lottery system.
How Does the Voucher System Work?
Kimmel explained that once the applicant is able to get a voucher, which can take a while due to demand, the applicant then has 60 days to have their current landlord take it or find one that does.
Landlords can deny a voucher for a variety of reasons so after the 60 days, they can ask for another 60-day extension or the voucher expires and the person must wait until the application opens up again.
Kimmel hopes that it doesn’t get to that point for tenants and landlords and that education about the program is key.
"A big part of what we do is landlord education. We want landlords to understand the program, understand the benefits of being a participating landlord. A large portion of the rent is coming straight from the Housing Authority on a monthly basis, deposited right into their bank accounts. It is a huge financial incentive for them."
The Housing Authority can also help resolve tenant issues, which Kimmel added is another added benefit to the program.
So you may be wondering if there is enough housing available for those with vouchers? 23ABC took a deep dive and broke down what exactly is available for those to rent that use this program according to the Housing Authority of Kern's website.
There is one studio apartment listing for $875 a month and five one-bedroom apartments available with an average rent of $835.
When it comes to 2-bedrooms, there are 3 townhomes, one house, and one apartment listed with an average rent of more than $1,100 a month.
The most availability is for 3 bedrooms with 10 houses listed across Kern County with an average rent of $1,325 a month.
There are four 4-bedroom houses listed with an average rent of $1,875 a month. And there is one five-bedroom house available. It's listed at $1,950 a month.
In total, that's 26 Section 8 listings, with 16 houses, seven apartments, and three townhomes available.
This still might not be enough as the Housing Authority projects it will receive around 20,000 applications. And only around 380 of those applicants will be selected to receive housing vouchers for this year.
The Housing Authority of the County of Kern administers the federally funded Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8, whereby eligible participants including very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled are awarded vouchers enabling them to find housing in the private sector.
The Housing Authority contracts with landlords to subsidize the participants’ rents. Housing must meet HUD Housing Quality Standards for the Agency to enter into a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) Contract with the property owner. The subsidy is the difference between 30% of tenant income and the Section 8 Payment Standard amount for Kern County or the gross rent, whichever is lower.
HUD establishes income limits annually, based on family size for the area in which the Housing Authority is located. Currently, 75% of eligible applicants must have income that does not exceed 30% of the median area income. The remaining 25% may have an income limit of up to 80% of the area median. Agency staff processes applications determine eligibility completes criminal background checks and works with tenants and landlords.
Section 8 is a federally-funded rent subsidy Program for low-income families. Qualifications are based on income & family composition. The Section 8 waiting list is currently closed. Present Section 8 participants may remain in the Section 8 Program as long as there is funding for the program. Tenants need to remain eligible for a rent subsidy according to income guidelines and remain in compliance with their family obligations under the Program. Under the Section 8 Program families select and rent dwellings that meet the program’s Housing Quality Standards. If the dwelling and lease are approved by the Housing Authority then a contract is signed with the Owner and the Tenant to make rent subsidy payments for the family. The Housing Authority’s subsidy is the difference between 30% of the family’s adjusted monthly income and the contract rent. The Agency pays the subsidy amount directly into the account of the landlord. The Section 8 tenant pays their portion of the rent directly to the landlord.