Friday will be the last day Orange County residents can apply to be put on the waitlist for Section 8 housing vouchers – a federally funded program that helps subsidize rent for low-income residents.
This is the first time in over a decade the Orange County Housing Authority has opened its waitlist for the voucher program and it comes amid pressure from officials in Sacramento to address California’s housing unaffordability crisis.
This time around the window was open for 11 days as housing needs and costs remain high in Orange County. It will close Friday right before midnight.
David Duran, a founding member of the People’s Homeless Task Force, said in a Wednesday interview that he’s glad that the waitlist opened up, but there’s not enough affordable housing to address the increasing need in Orange County.
“It’s almost like giving somebody a free meal ticket knowing all good and well, that they’re out of food,” Duran said. “There is no housing to accommodate the thousands and thousands that will be on a waitlist for years.”
Applicants must submit their social security number, birth dates for all family members, home and work addresses and household income.
To apply online to be put on the waitlist, click here.
Fernando Zamora, a spokesman for OC Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento, said in a Wednesday email that 8,000 applications came in the first three hours of the waitlist being open.
“The high demand is a clear sign of the need of rental assistance and affordable housing through the county and nation,” Zamora wrote.
None of the other OC Supervisors responded to requests for comment Wednesday, but all of them applauded the opening of the waitlist in a joint news release.
“For thousands of people and families who have been waiting to apply for rental assistance this comes as a welcomed relief,” said Board of Supervisor Chair Don Wagner in the Sept. 1 news release.
Orange County Supervisors have been hosting sign up information sessions in the past two weeks with Sarmiento hosting one this past Monday.
A family of four needs a household income of $71,450 or less to qualify for the program. A family of five needs a household income of $77,500 or less to qualify.
For more information on income limits and the application process, click here.
The opening of the waitlist comes amid a rotating wave of strikes by hotel workers in Orange and Los Angeles Counties demanding better pay to help keep a roof over their heads.
[Read: The Summer of Strikes]
The waitlist opened up on Sept. 18 and will close on Sept. 29 at 11:59 p.m. 12,000 applicants will be placed on the waitlist. If more than 12,000 people apply, the county’s housing authority will pick 12,000 applicants at random on October 17.
Alexa Pratt, a spokeswoman with Orange County Community Resources, said in a Wednesday interview that within the first week since the waitlist opened, 40,500 people applied.
She also said 650 housing vouchers have been issued in the last year.
Pratt said tenants put 30%-40% of their income towards rent and the rest gets subsidized.
She added when the waitlist last opened for two weeks around 2012, they had about 50,000 applications.
“It’s taken this long to service all 50,000 people so in order to better comply with best practices, they’ve decided to open it up again, this time to limit it to only 12,000 applications,” Pratt said.
“That way they can service those applications within three to four years and that way, the application will open more frequently this time.”
She added that the County Housing Authority generally opens a new waitlist when the previous list is reduced to a six to nine month waiting period.
Veterans, older adults, people with disabilities and residents in the OC Housing Authority’s jurisdiction will be given priority.
The county housing authority’s jurisdiction encompasses unincorporated territory and all cities except Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana – which have their own housing voucher programs.
In Orange County, the median gross rent is $2,057, according to census data.
And the County’s median income is close to $128,000, according to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
Meanwhile, state officials are increasing pressure on local leaders up and down California to zone for 2.5 million new homes by the turn of the decade in an effort to address a statewide housing shortage.
In Orange County, city officials have to adopt housing plans that, taken altogether, will have local cities zone for over 180,000 new homes – and 75,000 of them have to be designated for very low and low income families.
Many city officials, namely in Huntington Beach, have pushed back on those goals calling them unrealistic and unattainable and demanding greater local control when it comes to development.
OC Supervisors earlier this month unanimously moved forward with their state-mandated housing plan to zone for over 10,000 new homes – close to half of which have to be affordable for very low and low income families.
Earlier attempts to get state approval for the county’s plan have been rejected a couple of times.
It comes as the county’s already far behind on their previous housing goals – echoing struggles faced by just about every other county and city in the Southern California region.
As the county struggles to address the need for affordable housing, people living on the streets are dying.
Earlier this year, the Sheriff’s department released a report that showed close to 400 homeless people died in 2021.
The County’s 2022 point in time count shows that there were 5,718 homeless people in OC last year and 3,057 of them were unsheltered.
At the same time, calls for rent control are echoing throughout Orange County in places like Buena Park, Costa Mesa and in mobile home parks in Huntington Beach.
So far, Santa Ana is the only city in the county to adopt a citywide rent control ordinance.
A majority of Santa Ana City Council Members earlier this month voiced support for a measure on the November 2024 ballot to affirm the rent control ordinance.
Duran said rent control is part of the answer, but that county supervisors also need to prioritize spending on affordable housing instead of law enforcement.
“We need housing, housing, housing.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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