While there is an ever-growing need for housing to support low-income residents due to the real lack of affordable housing, there are programs that help lower income families find and rent homes.
The Housing Choice Voucher Program, better known as the “Section 8” program, allows private housing providers to rent out their apartments and homes at fair market rates to qualified low-income tenants. The rental subsidy is administered by the Santa Clara County Housing Authority and funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In Santa Clara County, the program has been closed to new applicants since 2006, and even then, the program only opened for five days, received 60,000 applicants and then closed again. After 15 years of dwindling down the waiting list, the county housing authority has opened the program once again to new applicants. However, the program will operate very differently moving forward.
Applicants can now apply online through a relatively simple process without providing income verification. Applications are selected through a random lottery process, at which time the applicants then have to prove they qualify. Current income qualifications can be found here. To remain in the lottery to qualify for the vouchers, applicants must log in once a year to update their status.
Some applicants can also apply for the Moving to Work Program, a temporary voucher program designed to improve the applicant’s skillset so they can transition off the subsidy when they are better qualified and secure a better paying job. Applicants approved for this program are eligible for:
- Housing Choice voucher or Section 8
- Family Unification Program
- Non-Elderly Disabled Voucher
- Mainstream (select Mainstream voucher increments)
- Project Based Voucher
- Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, with exceptions—not all Moving to Work flexibilities apply
Full details for the Moving to Work Program can be found here.
For rental property owners and managers, misconceptions have led to uneasy feelings about renting to tenants with a Housing Choice (Section 8) voucher. Section 8 applicants are screened through the same process and must comply with source of income ordinances as other applicants, yet a stigma remains. In addition, many owners are misinformed about the eviction process when it comes to tenants with a Section 8 voucher. All tenants, regardless of whether or not they are using vouchers, must abide by the terms of their lease and can be evicted if they break those terms.
In addition, property owners have misconceptions about the program itself. For example, owners accepting Section 8 vouchers are guaranteed an income stream through the program, even in bad rental housing markets like during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Santa Clara County Housing Authority can help find new tenants and pay for some vacancy losses.
As an incentive, the housing authority will offset a portion of turnover costs by making vacancy payments to current Section 8 property owners who re-rent a unit previously occupied by a Section 8 tenant to a new Section 8 family. The payments, calculated based on 80% of the last tenant’s contract rent amount, may be made for up to 30 days if the new tenant’s request for tenancy approval is received within 90 days from the date that the last Section 8 tenant moved out.
More information about financial incentives to property owners who re-rent an eligible unit to another Section 8 tenant can be found here.
In an effort to attract more housing providers to accept the Section 8 voucher, the housing authority is offering first-time housing providers up to $2,500 payments as a bonus for signing up. Jeff Zell, a local property manager, states that once he got through the initial application process, which may sometimes be time consuming, he values the certainty of receiving on-time payments and having access to a case manager to assist with resolving issues or problems that may arise with any tenants in the program.
After 10 years of renting out our single-family home, my wife and I are currently going through the process of accepting a Section 8 voucher. Although the application process has been a bit laborious, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I was able to access live customer service support when I had questions. We are now poised to accept a Section 8 voucher from a family struggling to afford the ever-increasing cost of living in Santa Clara County.
Time will tell if these innovative changes to the way affordable housing programs are administered will enable success rates for families shopping with the vouchers. To read more about the Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program and learn about the revised application guidelines, visit the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors resource page at www.sccaor.com/section-8-resources.
Johnny Khamis is a former San Jose councilmember representing District 10. He now works as a public relations consultant for the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors (SCCAOR).