An Inside Look at the “Waitlist Graveyard” that Government Housing Creates

“FAR BETTER ALTERNATIVES”

by TRI Staff, ©2017

What if your tax dollars could actually help low-income families find affordable homes? (Photo: IN.gov)

(May 11, 2017) — Editor’s note: The following is a firsthand account of the inefficiencies and inequities of the “affordable government housing” system from the perspective of a current HUD employee who wishes to remain anonymous.

The mission statement of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to “create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.” But has HUD really lived up to this? Is it effectively using taxpayer money and all of its resources to provide housing to low-income families and individuals?

Perhaps an even better question is: are you willing to wait a decade or more to finally live in your “affordable home?” Because if you’re not, you should know that this is the standard procedure for any Section 8 housing unit. Is the wait worth it? As a HUD employee, I would argue that there are far better resources to which we could voluntary distribute our tax money and far better alternatives to creating affordable homes.

I have been a HUD employee for over a year now, and not a single day goes by that an applicant or prospective applicant does not ask me the question: “I’ve been waiting ‘X’ amount of years for Section 8 housing; when is the waitlist going to be reopened?”

My response is always the same: “When it opens, it will open.” This is the standard answer that I have been told to give. The fact is, after almost 12 years, the waitlist is finally going to be reopened for these applicants. These are folks who must continually update their own income statuses, addresses, and other general information just to stay on the waitlist. If they don’t, they may be forced to wait yet another grueling decade to reapply.

These are people of modest means whose incomes range from $16,000 to $20,000 per year. HUD’s strict policies, from income limits to waitlist periods, cripple the chances of future applicants applying for “affordable housing.” I should clarify my previous statement about the waitlist having finally opened after 12 years. What this really means is that market-rent units were available while the Section 8 units saw numerous applicants — some who waited eight years on standby — booted off the list for not replying to an annual update form.

And that’s not all. The previous waitlist from the year before had exactly 30 applicants. This year that list was reduced from 30 to 17 due mostly to applicants either not replying to an annual update form (to see if the applicant is still active or interested in waiting another couple years) or to applicants being offered market rent instead of Section 8 rent. This is also partially to do with applicants — after years of waiting — now finding themselves either under or over HUD’s strict income limit.

How does this play into HUD’s inefficiency? HUD’s income policies ask future and current applicants on our waitlist to essentially remain earning a low income with no incentive to actually move up an income level. How does this benefit those who are either homeless or who are struggling to make ends meet?

It is also worth noting that “over the income limit” could literally just mean a couple thousand dollars, sometimes even a few hundred dollars, over the limit. This tiny variation in income could get an applicant offered a market-rent unit. But what if the person in need of housing — now forced to apply for a market-rate unit — is technically over the Section 8 limit but under the market-rent income requirements? It’s a no-win situation. You would have to reapply when the waitlist opens up again, and — if you make the cut — you’re back to the bottom of the list or lists that you applied for originally.

The solution to creating more affordable housing is not developing more Section 8 units since that is counter intuitive to HUD’s mission statement. It’s counter intuitive because every HUD site becomes a waitlist graveyard where individuals and families are far more likely to remain in a limbo status and never actually have the opportunity to live in an affordable home.

To be clear, I am not calling for an end to HUD. But what if there were nonprofits or other organizations in the area of affordable housing that we could direct our tax dollars towards? If we had more choice in the ways we combat homelessness, or in developing more effective and efficient affordable housing via our tax dollars, wouldn’t this be an option worth more thought and action?

We need more options available in order to grant people the security and affordable housing they seek. Those options would not only allow people to move into Section 8 units (if they still choose to do so) but also to opt out of their waitlist limbo and finally secure an affordable home.

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