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Demand high for housing vouchers: More than 2,500 seek help from low-income program

A waitlist for low-income families to apply for housing vouchers has closed, potentially for up to two years.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly called Section 8, is an initiative by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist low-income, elderly or disabled tenants in finding private housing.

Through the Hawaii County Office of Housing and Community Development, the program allows Big Island beneficiaries to choose their own housing — so long as it fits the program’s criteria — and pay typically about 30% of the monthly rent, with the rest covered by the voucher.

After closing in 2019, the program reopened for Hawaii County applicants on March 15, and closed again as scheduled on April 30, having received 2,587 pre-applications. Of those applications, 647 were randomly selected by electronic lottery to be placed on the program’s new waitlist.

Housing administrator Susan Kunz said the program initially was intended to only serve about 200 applicants, but was expanded to 647 — about 25% of the total applicants — after a reassessment of available funding.

Previously, Kunz said the waiting list was held open indefinitely, allowing thousands of people to join the list at once.

“That left people waiting for two, three, four, sometimes even five or six years,” Kunz said. “We didn’t want to do that anymore, so what we’re doing now is opening it for a certain period of time.”

Kunz said the waitlist will not reopen until those 647 people on the waitlist either receive a voucher or are disqualified, a process she said would likely take about two years. However, she added, the waitlist may reopen sooner depending on whether additional funding for the program can be secured.

Kunz stressed that not everyone on the waitlist will necessarily be eligible for a voucher. Voucher eligibility is determined by total gross income as compared with the Hawaii County median income, as well as family size.

Based on the past success of the program, about 30% of applicants on the waitlist will not qualify for a voucher, Kunz said.

In other housing news, the county will receive $1.8 million in federal funding through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

Under the American Rescue Plan Act, HUD has allocated an additional $13.9 million to the state to assist families with rent and utilities payments, the majority of which was awarded to the City and County of Honolulu.

“For renters who have lost jobs or had hours cut, this additional federal money will help them stay in their homes and pay for utility bills,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in a statement. “While we keep working to bring back more federal relief, this new funding will be a big help.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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