For some, 2020 marks fifth year on city’s Section 8 waitlist

Arvada working to assist hundreds on list

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/20/20

When Jane, a 45-year-old Arvada resident, applied for housing assistance in 2015, she was hoping to obtain a housing voucher to pay the rent, find her own apartment and quickly get back on her …

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For some, 2020 marks fifth year on city’s Section 8 waitlist

Arvada working to assist hundreds on list

Posted

When Jane, a 45-year-old Arvada resident, applied for housing assistance in 2015, she was hoping to obtain a housing voucher to pay the rent, find her own apartment and quickly get back on her feet.

But the voucher from the federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program didn’t come through until Jan. 15 this year.

Until now, she has depended on the kindness of others, staying with her mother, her daughter and a childhood friend.

“It’s not been easy living in Arvada,” said Jane, who asked that her real name not be used because of safety concerns involving a former family member. “I have not had my own place in four years. I haven’t had a healthy space.”

Having received Section 8 assistance after more than four years of waiting, Jane’s struggle isn’t over yet: She has 90 days from Jan. 15 to find a place and a landlord who will accept the Section 8 voucher — an increasingly difficult proposition in a housing market where one-bedroom rents have increased by 22.5% over the past three years.

Section 8 in Arvada

The Arvada Housing Authority (AHA) houses about 500 families through its Section 8 program, said Carrie Espinosa, the city’s housing choice voucher supervisor. The national program was created through 1974’s Housing and Community Development Act to assist low-income individuals and families in finding stable housing.

MORE: Homelessness and affordable housing major topics for Jeffco mayors

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), voucher-holders contribute 30% of their monthly income for rent and utilities while their voucher covers the rest, up to a limit established by the local authority. For those who have zero income, the voucher pays 100% of their rent, up to the authority limit. In Arvada, the limit for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,184 per month, including utilities.

To be eligible for a voucher, an individual or family must make less than 50% of the median area income. That number varies based on family size; for a family of four in Arvada, 50% of the 2019 median was $46,400, according to HUD.

Nearly 200 individuals are on Arvada’s Section 8 waitlist. Individuals from across the country were eligible to apply, though recipients must use the voucher at an Arvada property.

The AHA began accepting applicants in 2015 and closed the list the same year after receiving around 4,300 applications, Espinosa said. The list has remained closed ever since.

Arvada housing manager Ed Talbot said he typically receives one or two emails every day from residents looking for housing assistance. Unable to add them to the list, the authority refers to other organizations, like Colorado Housing Connects, a nonprofit that keeps a database of open waitlists and other resources.

More than a year to go

For many individuals on the list, a voucher won’t come easily.

HUD funding for the Section 8 program periodically increases because rents increase each year; the extra federal dollars are meant to cover those increases so authorities can keep housing their current voucher-holders and assist new individuals.

But federal increases haven’t kept up with yearly rent increases and “housing authorities across the nation are not getting the funding they need,” Espinosa said.

About a decade ago, “the rent increases we were seeing (for an individual) were anywhere from $10 to $50, maybe up to $100,” Espinosa said. “There are some cases now where we’re seeing $500 rent increases coming in. It’s all over the place right now.”

According to website Zumper, an apartment listing site, December 2019 median rents for a one-bedroom in Arvada increased 22.5% since December 2016, from $1,020 to $1,250.

For two-bedrooms, the median rent increased 14.3%, from $1,400 to $1,600.

The website compiles active apartment listings to calculate median rents, it says. In 2017, Zumper medians fell in the same range as median costs reported by the US Census Bureau.

The bureau asks for renter costs, including utilities, with its most recent data (2017) showing renters paid a median of $1,208 a month. On average, Zumper’s medians were $1,006 for a one-bedroom and $1,348 for a two-bedroom that year.

The constant increases can make the wait for a voucher longer than expected.

Jane, for instance, was at the top of the Arvada list for years, able to track her place via the authority, she said.

She first applied for the voucher in 2015 when a severe gastrointestinal illness kept her from working. She was planning to return to work soon, once the symptoms were under control, but a car accident later that same year left her with a brain injury that affected some of her physical abilities, including her balance. She has been unable to return to work since, receiving county benefits and food stamps to cover some expenses while, for years, the lack of federal funds kept a Section 8 voucher out of her hands.

Logistical problems also contributed to the delay. Though the AHA attempted to reach out to Jane to offer a voucher in 2018, because she was living at her daughter’s address, the mail did not reach her, she said. Jane later asked the authority if vouchers were available that year, but the funding had already been awarded to someone else, she said.

The Arvada authority remains unsure when it will again accept new applications for the waitlist. Espinosa estimated it will take about a year and a half for the authority to assist all on the wailist.

November 2019 saw a chance for the authority to slightly accelerate the process. The Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the Arvada authority 30 additional mainstream housing choice vouchers for non-elderly individuals with a disability. The vouchers were distributed to recipients in January.

Jane was one of those recipients. But the voucher is contingent on if she finds a landlord by April 14. Individuals can apply for an extension if necessary, which the housing authority may either grant or deny.

Struggle to find a landlord

State law does not require landlords to work with Section 8 tenants. In Denver, a 2019 law prohibited landlords from discriminating based on a tenant’s source of income, but for other cities in the metro area, no such law exists.

Sheridan resident Elizabeth, who receives Section 8 assistance through Innovative Housing Concepts, the Englewood housing authority, says she was turned down by more than 10 landlords before she finally found somewhere to stay. Elizabeth asked her last name not be used because many do not know she receives Section 8 assistance.

“I was about to give up,” she said. “It was very difficult because the reputation for Section 8 is that you won’t take care of the house.”

When Jane and 29 others were given their vouchers, the AHA told them that although almost every Section 8 tenant can find a landlord in Arvada, some landlords will not work with a Section 8 voucher, Jane said.

“The first thing you ask is ‘do you accept Section 8,’” she said.

Some area landlords have long held that Section 8 vouchers come with significant challenges. In summer 2018, for instance, landlords asked Denver’s city council to vote no on the code revision to prevent discrimination against Section 8 tenants. They argued the program often burdens landlords by requiring extra paperwork and inspections.

An additional concern — that Section 8 landlords incur costs when tenants cause property damage they cannot pay for — led the Denver mayor’s administration to explore a possible Landlord Risk Mitigation Fund. The fund would help landlords pay for such expenses.

The fund hasn’t yet been set up and provisions for the fund were not included in Denver’s 2020 budget.

While there are “a few steps involved in signing up as a Section 8 landlord, the process thereafter is like any other non-Section 8 rent payment,” said Kristen Gines, chief people officer with the Jefferson County Housing Authority (JCHA). The authority both gives out Section 8 vouchers, and accepts them as payment at rental properties it owns, including Arvada Cottages at 11923 W. 60th Pl.

Few affordable options

Gines suggested Section 8 landlords experience more benefits than burdens because payments are always issued on time. She added that to her and others at the JCHA, working with Section 8 tenants is also an important way to address the “large housing gap” created by unattainable rents.

“Our goal is to fill that gap with affordable options,” Gines said.

One such option, affordable housing units, are a necessity for voucher-holders, as vouchers do not cover rents beyond the specified limit. To incentivize new affordable housing projects, the federal government instituted the LIHTC program, or low-income housing tax credit program, covering some construction costs for those building affordable developments.

The HUD lists eight LIHTC developments in Arvada on its resource locator. The majority are located just south of Grandview Avenue, near W. 52nd Avenue and Allison Street, with a handful of others scattered across the city.

As the cost of living increases, representatives “need to work at the federal level to ensure accessible and affordable housing options are available for all Coloradans,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who represents the state’s 7th Congressional District. The district includes Arvada, Lakewood, Golden and Westminster.

Perlmutter has been part of several recent efforts to boost government funding for housing programs. He is a cosponsor of 2019’s Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, which would expand the LIHTC by 50%, and H.R. 5599, which would increase affordable housing construction by growing the National Housing Trust Fund. The first has more than 200 cosponsors and is currently in the Ways and Means Committee, while the second was introduced Jan. 14.

But while those efforts seek the necessary support and funding, Jane and others can find themselves spending day after day on waitlists, or making call after call to landlords.

The AHA has compiled a list of landlords who will work with Section 8 tenants, so that “rarely do we have a customer that is unable to find a unit in Arvada,” Espinosa said.

Even still, at times, the task at hand seems overwhelming, Jane said. So far, she estimated that she has reached out to more than a dozen landlords, with no success; many of the landlords will not consider her because of a previous eviction related to her inability to pay rent, she said.

“It’s really easy to fall out of faith when you’ve faced as much adversity as I have,” she said. “I’ve really kept praying.”

As she continues to search for a home, she works to stay positive. 

“I’m just remembering to breathe,” she said, “and not forgetting to take care of myself.”

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