Tenants struggle to navigate Section 8 housing voucher program

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) – While more affordable housing is being built in Lexington, some people are still trying to navigate the process of finding an affordable place to live right now.

Pamela Morel says she has been trying to find accommodation using her Section 8 housing choice voucher in Winchester since August.

“There is absolutely nothing to rent in Winchester – no three bedrooms,” Morel said.

With the Housing Choice Voucher, people who qualify and meet certain conditions can choose to have some or all of their rent paid by the federal government.

However, for months Morel says she has had bad luck trying to use her voucher in Winchester to move her family of five to a three-bedroom house they can afford. She says she also had no luck trying to transfer her voucher to use at Lexington. She struggles to understand why.

“Nobody has answers,” Morel said. “If you have a wearability question about anything, no one has the answers. They’ll give you a cut and blow dry as well – well, you have to fill out those papers.”

Shay Lamarr of the Fair Housing Council says he has heard of and tried to help several frustrated tenants navigate the scheme.

“We get calls every day about people. Can you help me? I can’t find a place that will accept my voucher. The owner turned me down,” Lamarr said. “There is indeed a serious problem with the availability of accommodation for people using Section 8 coupons.”

Morel is currently in the portability process to expand its options from Winchester to Lexington. Lamarr says the process can take time.

“It’s not just the issue of transferring vouchers, although that’s a huge barrier for people. There is also the question of the timestamp on the vouchers. The time people have to use them is limited and the process to get them extended is very difficult,” Lamarr said.

Morel’s timestamp is coming to an end. After filing for an extension, she has until April 30 to find a unit before her voucher expires. If this happens, she will have to join a waiting list.

Lexington program director Aldean Pleasant says the federal program works like a choice for renters. They may choose to wait out the process and do the work to find an owner willing to work with them. Some choose to find other housing options instead.

“It’s called the Housing Choice Voucher and that’s what we tell our customers, you know, it’s a choice. Good choice of accommodation. So it’s your choice if they find their own unit. You know, they decide, can they pay the utilities or do they want a landlord to pay the utilities. All of those things are negotiable with the owner,” Pleasant said.

Pleasant says there are about 3,500 people in the program with good assets and most of their participants don’t experience any problems with their system.

At present, Pleasant says there is a closed waiting list of 800 people that the Lexington Housing Authority is working on. They were able to move 30-40 people a month with an average wait time of a few months.

Pleasant says what can complicate the process for some is a lack of understanding of the process and what is expected of the candidate.

Tenants are largely responsible for navigating the paperwork and finding their own place to live.

Local public housing authorities do not have the power to alter the scheme – they only need to administer the funds and ensure that each participant – landlord and tenant are aware of their role and guidelines.

The process usually looks like this after a tenant has received a housing voucher:

  1. Tenants have approximately 120 days to search
  2. Must find a unit that accepts housing vouchers
  3. Complete the lease file with the participating landlord
  4. Turn the package into a housing authority

The process may take time.

“Sometimes with so many people in Section 8 using the phone lines to get to social workers, things like that can be really, really difficult,” Lamarr said.

That’s why Morel tries to use her resources and reach out to whomever she can get the answers she needs before time runs out. She believes her disability and extra income may have something to do with the confusion.

“One person directs you to another, directs you to another. You go around in circles until your voucher runs out,” Morel said.

Although Section 8 housing vouchers and affordable housing are not the same, they both exist to help low-income tenants. Low-income tenants can apply for affordable housing instead of using their voucher if they wish and can find housing.

The mayor’s office says it is focused on improving the availability of affordable housing and has already invested a total of $350 million in affordable housing in the community, leveraging $23.6 million in government funds. .

“Nearly 3,000 more families have clean, safe and affordable homes thanks to the work we’ve done on affordable housing since 2014. This year, we’ve committed an additional $10 million in federal funds, plus $3.5 million in local funds, to build or rehabilitate affordable housing, plus additional funds for housing assistance. Since its inception in 2014, the City’s Affordable Housing Fund has provided funding to for-profit and non-profit developers for the creation and preservation of 2,933 affordable housing units,” said Susan Straub, Director of Communications .

Regarding the work being done to help those looking for affordable housing, Housing Commissioner Charlie Lanter said progress is being made.

Lanter says the housing advocate position is expected to go to council for approval at the end of this month. They hope to post an ad in May and have someone for the position in June.

“The first employee in the office other than me started last week and she hasn’t started working on a resource housing solution yet, but it’s on our project list. The Housing Advocate will play an important role in this project. Designing and implementing this solution will be a complex project and will likely take some time. In the meantime, we continue to provide citizens with all the information and support we have about affordable housing resources in the community,” Lanter said.