Low-income families soon could see big boosts to housing vouchers, commonly known as Section 8 housing, that would allow them to move out of poor neighborhoods and into middle-class areas.
Rules put in place in 2016 under the Obama administration called for housing vouchers to be issued based on the prevalent rents in a given neighborhood rather than across an entire metropolitan region.
The rule targeted 23 metropolitan regions and will have a major impact in South Florida, as the regions include those in eastern Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Under the new Trump administration, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson had sought to delay implementing the rule for more than a year, reportedly to better study how the move to higher-income housing areas would affect the voucher program. But a group of civil rights organizations sued over that delay, leading to a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordering the new rule to be implemented Dec. 23.
With funding appropriated by Congress and distributed by HUD to local housing authorities, housing vouchers provide a means of paying rent for thousands of families in South Florida. Landlords aren’t required to accept Section 8 housing vouchers, and the current low value of the vouchers means that those landlords that do accept them have apartments in high-poverty, highly segregated neighborhoods. The new voucher rule would set the value of a housing voucher based on average rents in a ZIP code, so they would be worth more in wealthier areas.
The move comes as , even as . Affordable housing simply means that 30 percent of the average median income in an area can cover the cost of the average rent. Housing vouchers provide aid to the poorest families, so that 30 percent of their income, plus the housing voucher, can get them into a home.
The new rule was designed to allow low-income families to move into higher-income areas, which generally means access to better schools and better long-term outcomes for children, such as high-school graduation and college attendance.
In order to qualify for a housing voucher, families must have income below a sliding scale that is based on the number of people in the family. In Broward County, for one person, it’s $25,400 a year, and it goes up to $47,850 for a family of eight. The Palm Beach County Housing Authority refused to comment on financial requirements for vouchers or how many families in the county receive the vouchers.
Ann Deibert, CEO of the Broward County Housing Authority, fears that the more generous housing vouchers will not come with an increase in funding from Congress — meaning less families will be able to get vouchers.
“HUD is supposed to be issuing some guidance and assisting with any potential obstacles to implementation. This is going to be a major change to the way we have done business for 42 years,” Deibert said. “Looking down the road, if you have more of a migration where families are moving into low-poverty areas where the rent is higher, the amount of money we get to support vouchers is based on congressional appropriations. This year, we’re going to be funded around 96 percent, but this, in essence, may mean we may not be able to house as many people.”
Right now, housing vouchers support some 6,000 families in Broward County.
“It’s very helpful in that you have a concern by some landlords that they would be forced to take less rent than they could get from their homes,” said Keenya Robertson, the president and CEO of HOPE, a nonprofit that fights fair-housing law violations in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. “That’s just not the case and I think you would have more landlords open to the idea of voucher holders as tenants because they’re able to ask for and receive the market rent for the area where the property is. So it’s a win-win for all.”
Robertson also owns a rental home in Pembroke Pines, but because the costs of maintaining the home are higher than what she could get with housing vouchers, she wasn’t able to offer the home to people on Section 8 housing. Now, she can.
“Housing vouchers are a legal source of income, it’s a means of paying the rent, and your tenant is going to be as good as any,” she said.
In the depths of the Great Recession, a few homes in upper-class neighborhoods in last-ditch attempts to stave off foreclosure. But the new rule would be different in that the larger housing vouchers would allow homeowners to rent to poor families at market value for better-off neighborhoods.
Home building groups such as the National Association of Home Builders were against the rule, arguing that moving poor families into higher-income areas would mean less investment in poor areas. The statewide equivalent of the group, the Florida Home Builders Association, did not respond to requests for an interview.
Once she receives guidelines from HUD on implementing the new rules, Deibert said she hopes to start handing out the higher-value housing vouchers later this year.
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