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King County Housing Authority rental assistance program receives record number of applicants

A record number of people applied for rental assistance from the King County Housing Authority. But few will be chosen to receive assistance.

The King County Housing Authority received 25,306 applications for its Section 8 Rental Assistance Program during the recent two-week period in which it reopened the waiting list, according to a Monday media release from the housing authority.

The housing authority will select 2,500 by lottery in mid-July to determine which applicants will be placed on the waiting list for rental assistance.

It is the largest number of applications the housing authority has ever received, more than double the number of applications received when the waiting list was last reopened in June 2007 for a similar period.

“This level of demand spotlights the growing need for housing assistance we are seeing across the region,” said Stephen Norman, executive director of the King County Housing Authority. “The gap between wages or fixed benefits such as social security and housing costs has never been greater. The economic downturn, the steady loss of affordable units, and rising rents are placing many households in increasingly desperate circumstances. The majority of these applicants are elderly, disabled, or working poor families with children. Many are on the verge of homelessness.”

The Section 8 Housing Choice voucher program targets low-income households most in need of housing in King County.

Applicants must be homeless or about to become homeless, live in substandard housing or be spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent. A typical household in KCHA’s program has an average income of $13,000.

The Section 8 Program 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. More than 3,200 landlords participate in the program. The subsidy allows program participants to find housing in the private rental market.

Generally, the program pays the difference between the rent charged by a housing owner and the assisted household’s rental contribution, which is set at approximately 30-40 percent of the household’s income adjusted for family size and utility costs.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2011 “Out of Reach” report, the average monthly fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in King County is $1,176.

Yet the maximum an extremely low-income family (earning 30 percent of the area median income or less) can afford to pay for housing is $622 per month.  There are virtually no rental units in the private market in King County that are affordable to these households.

The federal government has not significantly expanded the program in over a decade. New vouchers are issued when households currently served move off the program. Last year, approximately 540 vouchers were issued.

A lottery will be held in mid-July to determine which applicants will be placed on the waiting list, which will be capped at 2,500 slots. Applicants at the tail end of the list could face a wait of 18 months or more to obtain a voucher.

Currently, KCHA’s Section 8 Program provides rental assistance to 10,000 families in King County. It is the largest affordable housing program in the state. Combined with a rising number of households on public housing waiting lists, KCHA’s level of applications is at a historic high.

KCHA administers a range of quality affordable rental and homeownership programs for residents of King County. The authority serves more than 18,000 households including, family, elderly and disabled households.

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