A website that lists affordable rentals only showed three listings in Chandler as of Monday.
Chandler officials are trying a new way to incentivize landlords to offer more affordable housing: cash.
Families can wait years to get a place on the city’s Section 8 housing waitlist and then possibly a few more years to receive a voucher.
But many families who finally do get that voucher then face another problem—there’s nowhere to use them.
Amy Jacobson, Chandler’s housing and redevelopment manager, told The Copper Courier there are more than 100 families who currently have vouchers and are still looking for homes.
However, the city’s supply appears not to meet demand: as of Monday, the affordable rentals site GoSection8 only showed three listings in Chandler.
“What we’re seeing is what landlords are posting on GoSection8, they’re getting rented very quickly,” Jacobson said.
Maybe Cash Will Help
In an attempt to increase the supply of homes for families with vouchers, Chandler introduced the Increase Rental Opportunities in Chandler (IROC) program in October.
The program gives new landlords, or landlords who haven’t participated in the Section 8 program for at least six months, a $400 incentive for each property they rent to a family using a voucher.
Many landlords have turned their sights toward housing the technology workers and college students who have flocked to the Phoenix metro area in recent years.
“We just need more landlords, is the bottom line,” Jacobson said. “We need more landlords to help house the families that have the vouchers.”
Since the program started, Jacobson said, four landlords have signed on, and a few more applications are pending.
A Lengthy Process
Jacobson said it’s important for affordable housing options to be readily available because vouchers expire in 60 days, unless the city grants an extension.
“We’re really wanting to make sure that those families who do have an issued voucher find housing, because unfortunately those vouchers do expire, and once they expire they’re no longer then on the waitlist.”
Getting removed from the waitlist can mean being once again years away from having a home. The list only reopens once the city clears the current list. Before the waitlist opened in January 2020, it took about four years to clear the previous line.
When Chandler’s waitlist opened last year, around 6,000 families applied. The city used a lottery system to put 4,000 of those families on the waitlist for the available 486 vouchers.
The other 2,000 will have to wait for the list to reopen in the future, which Jacobson said city officials hope won’t take as long as last time.
How the System Works
Families who fall into certain income limits can apply for a Section 8 voucher. When a family is issued that voucher, they pay 30% of their income toward rent while the federal government subsidizes the rest.
Landlords have the choice to accept those vouchers. It’s not illegal to turn them down. A 2018 Johns Hopkins study found that landlords’ prejudices against people using vouchers—as well as the bureaucracy of the program, including required yearly inspections—turned some of them away from participating.
A family continues to receive that subsidy for as long as their income stays the same. If the income goes up, they still pay 30%, which means the amount they pay goes up, and the subsidy goes down to account for the adjusted income.
If their income drops, the government can step in to make up the difference. Jacobson said this is one of the program’s benefits to landlords, especially as the pandemic has made many of their incomes uncertain.
“We really want to educate landlords to the benefits of Section 8 housing and how it can not only benefit the families, but also the consistent revenue stream, and things like that that can help financially too, especially during this unforeseen time,” she said.
The city also connects Section 8 families with housing specialists who can help them open savings accounts and gain financial stability, another plus for landlords.
Landlords who are interested in participating in IROC can visit the city’s website and fill out a form. A city representative will then follow up to get more information.
A Widespread Problem
Chandler is not the only city grappling with a lack of affordable housing. The problem is a national one.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), the country is short 7.2 million affordable housing units that families need.
The NLIHC ranked Arizona as the third-worst state for affordable housing in 2020. The group’s March 2020 report found that the state had only 26 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 “extremely low-income renter households.”
Tempe Mayor Corey Woods recently announced he wants to try a new solution to increasing his city’s supply of lower-rent housing through an initiative that would divert half of all new developments’ permitting fees to an affordable housing fund. On Thursday, the City Council will vote on the plan, which is the first of its kind in Arizona.
Jacobson said that, besides the IROC program, Chandler is exploring other potential solutions like this to help grow their listings.
“We need more affordable housing for families. And it’s not just a city of Chandler problem. It’s a regional, a national issue,” she said. “We need to come together, not only the city but other stakeholders—whether that be local nonprofits, the city, the state, the federal government—and really understand and implement something that needs to be done immediately.”