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Housing and Homelessness

For LA’s Section 8 Lottery Winners, Vouchers Could Still Be 10 Years Away. Here’s Where To Turn For Help

 A “for lease” sign advertises an available apartment. The sign is on a two-story building with an outdoor staircase.
A “for lease” sign advertises an available apartment in the city of Los Angeles.
(David Wagner
/
LAist)
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L.A’.s recent lottery for Section 8 housing vouchers drew massive demand — but now, tens of thousands of residents who are seeking an affordable place to rent may have to wait up to 10 years for assistance.

“That’s not even right,” said Anita Velasquez, who was one of 30,000 lottery winners selected by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles for the Section 8 waitlist.

The lottery, which was held for the first time in five years, drew 223,375 applications — so most residents who vied for a spot were disappointed. That means they'll miss out on the opportunity to benefit from the program, which provides federal subsidies that enable tenants to pay no more than a third of their income on rent.

But help will not be immediate for all the lucky ones either.

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Excitement Followed By Reality Check

Velasquez is a widow and shares a one-bedroom apartment with her two daughters in Downey, a city in southeast L.A. County. She had hoped the program would help her family get a bigger place.

But the email she received notifying her that she’d made the waitlist tempered her excitement. In its announcement letter to lottery winners, the agency wrote that it “will begin calling in applicants for interviews around mid-2023, but the wait could be up to 10 years.” A decade from now, both of Velasquez’s children will be adults.

Frank Fisher, who’s been unhoused for 14 years and is trying to secure permanent housing, received the same email. He let out a resigned laugh when he learned about the prospect of having to wait for a decade.

“That’s crazy,” he said, “but what can I do?”

Fisher is currently staying at a shelter in South L.A. and working toward earning his GED. Having his own place, he said, “would be a big stepping stone to get my life on track. It would be security. It would be amazing.”

Wait Times Mean A Long Road Ahead

Wait times for Section 8 vouchers have been notoriously slow, not just in Los Angeles, but across the country. Demand far outpaces the limited federal funding available.

Getting on the waitlist is a “great start,” said Elana Eden, a spokesperson for the Housing Rights Center, a nonprofit that helps combat housing discrimination. But “being accepted doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to get a voucher,” she added. “And it certainly doesn't mean you're going to get one right away.”

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In L.A. some people who applied and made the waitlist back in 2017 are still waiting. The agency expects to finish processing 2017 applicants by mid-2023, and then will move to the 2022 lottery winners.

Plus, even when renters manage to secure a voucher, they can encounter more challenges. Landlords and property managers often refuse to accept Section 8, Eden said. And though explicitly rejecting prospective tenants because they’re using a voucher is illegal in California, these applicants can be filtered out through tenant screenings that demand high income and excellent credit scores.

As a result, Eden and her colleagues devote ample time to answering questions about the rights of Section 8 voucher holders.

“You might not know where to turn or what you need to do or what your options are,” she said, “but you’re not alone.”

Where To Get Help

If you made the list – or if you’re among the 193,375 applicants who did not – here’s a list of housing resources:

  • Check out LAist’s Rent Hike Cheat Sheet, which includes the city of L.A., Inglewood, Culver City and other areas. You can also explore this chart for rent control information in other California cities. For mobile home rent regulations, the Mobile Home Park Owners Alliance maintains this chart
  • Reach out to the Housing Rights Center. Their counselors are trained to answer legal questions about a broad range of issues, including evictions, rent increases and repairs – all free of charge. 800-477-5977 TTY: 213-201-0867 or info@housingrightscenter.org
  • Check out the Housing Rights Center’s list of affordable housing in L.A. and Ventura counties. (The nonprofit updates the list every month.)
  • Apply for Section 8 housing in other areas, like Riverside County, whose waiting list application will remain open until Dec. 30. (You can apply to as many Section 8 waitlists as you wish, but you can only receive assistance from one agency.) 
  • Contact one of The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s nine facilities. The center works to provide housing for homeless youth, as well as affordable housing for seniors. 
  • Check out the HOPWA program, which provides housing assistance and supportive services for people living with HIV/AIDS and their families.
  • ​​Call the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority at 800-548-6047 if you are experiencing homelessness or are at-risk of becoming unhoused. The agency is prepared to help individuals and families. 
  • Dial 211 or visit 211la.org and search for terms like “security deposit” or select items like “Emergency Housing & Assistance” in the drop down menu to find more resources in L.A. County. 

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