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Housing and Homelessness

LA's Housing Authority Is Understaffed And The Unhoused Are Suffering From It

The housing authority for the city of L.A. logo
"Ideally, the housing authority would receive a complete referral packet," says Carlos VanNatter, director of Section 8. "We’d review it, everything is in order, we’d process it to issue a voucher. But that does not always happen.”
(Courtesy Housing Authority of the City of L.A.)
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Staffing shortages at the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) are affecting the process of helping people experiencing homelessness find a home.

Many low-income unhoused people rely on Section 8, or emergency housing vouchers, to access Los Angeles’ pricey rental market and HACLA plays a critical role in the homelessness crisis. The delays in processing these vouchers underscore not only the difficulty unhoused people face, but also partly explain why housed residents say they don’t see a differencein the amount of people living on the streets.

Beverlene Robinson, an assistant housing manager at HACLA, said the pandemic caused a lot of understaffing.

“It's not normal,” Robinson said. “We are making adjustments to get the job done. Sometimes there will be delays. Sometimes we will drop the ball.”

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HACLA is one of the nation’s largest public housing authorities with an annual budget of more than $1 billion. It receives funding, in part, from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Section 8 administrative fees and rent from public housing residents.

Robinson oversees a team of four in the agency’s Application, Processing, Issuance and Contracting department which handles applications submitted by people who found a Section 8 apartment to rent. She said each member of her team averages a caseload of roughly 103 people and they don’t always physically take the files home. Once pandemic restrictions began to ease, they came into work once a week; they’re now coming in twice a week.

Carlos VanNatter, HACLA’s director of Section 8, said they are working to fill vacancies, but it’s been difficult.

“Some of the issues we’ve seen in this hiring market are people want to telework 100% and we’re not there,” VanNatter said. “Candidates have a lot of options right now. We’ve had situations where they don’t show up for interviews, or they go through the process and get an offer and don’t accept.”

Overwhelmed By Referrals

VanNatter said their agency has also been overwhelmed with referrals from homeless service providers. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) frequently refers unhoused people to HACLA for assistance in getting into housing. The process from start to finish should take about a month, but can vary depending on individual situations. You can learn more about LAHSA’s role here.

Unhoused people are supposed to have a dedicated case manager to hold their hand through the entire process. The goal is to ensure they have completed applications with the proper documentation. VanNatter described it as a complex web due to the vast amount of nonprofits they work with.

“Some are really good, some are not as good,” VanNatter said. “They could have their own capacity issues where they’re overwhelmed working on applications and they could be short staffed themselves.”

Those kind of staffing issues directly impact unhoused people. If there are pieces of the puzzle missing, HACLA is forced to reject applications and request corrections causing delays to getting applications approved. HACLA said they provide training to homeless service providers to make the process smoother, but it doesn’t always work.

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Two blue tents used by people experiencing homelessness are in front of a fence that is blocking off nearly 2 acres of dirt meant to be a park.
Many unhoused people prefer to live in their tents while they wait for Section 8 applications to be approved.
(Ethan Ward

Otis Gossett, an unhoused man in downtown, has waited months for his Section 8 voucher approval while living in a tent with his dog. Gossett previously told LAist in Nov. 2021 that he was certain it would only be a few weeks before he finally moved into his new apartment. Three months later,he was still waiting.

Finding a landlord who will accept a Section 8 voucher is hard work. Many landlords are hesitant to work with formally unhoused people. VanNatter said landlords aren’t legally allowed to discriminate against voucher holders, but they can get very creative when coming up with reasons to deny them; such as bad credit or not meeting income thresholds.

Robinson said she fell in love with HACLA’s mission 27 years ago. She’s aware of the role they play in alleviating the city’s homelessness problem.

“I think everyone together, the politicians, you, myself, the clients, we can all do better,” she said.