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Affordable housing program in Travis County opens waitlist for the first time in eight years

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Gabriel C. Pérez

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A program that limits how much low-income families have to pay toward rent is accepting applications for the first time in nearly a decade.

The Housing Authority of Travis County says it will add 500 people to its waitlist for housing choice vouchers, formerly known as Section 8 vouchers. Residents who receive these vouchers pay no more than 40% of their income toward rent; the federal government pays the landlord the rest.

The authority will accept applications for its waitlist starting Friday through July 8.

Housing authorities receive funding for only a finite number of vouchers. The Housing Authority of Travis County, for example, has about 800 vouchers — most of which are currently being used.

“Vouchers don’t become available too often,” Patrick Howard, executive director of the housing authority, told KUT. Once one does though, the authority offers it to someone on the waitlist.

Howard said it’s been nearly eight years since the authority last opened its waitlist. Even if you qualify and get a spot, it can still take about two to three years to receive a voucher.

The news comes during a historic rise in housing prices in Travis County; average monthly rents in Austin, for example, rose nearly 20% in 2021.

Howard said the authority is reopening the waitlist as the list of eligible people has dwindled, either because they received a voucher or no longer qualify. People need to earn less than 80% of the median family income which, for a family of four, equates to about $88,000 a year.

Howard said the housing authority will be prioritizing people who are currently living on the streets or disabled. And then you have to convince a landlord to accept it.

In an attempt to make it easier for voucher holders to find a place to live, the Austin City Council passed a resolution in 2014 prohibiting landlords from discriminating against tenants based on how they planned to pay their rent. A year later, state lawmakers signed a bill undoing Austin’s rule.

Because of this, Howard said the housing authority tries to encourage landlords to accept vouchers – especially, in wealthier parts of town where data shows few people using housing choice vouchers live.

“We’re always in the business of trying to market to new landlords,” Howard said. “The options are limited in certain parts of town.”

The Housing Authority of the City of Austin, which also hands out housing choice vouchers to people who qualify, last opened its waitlist in 2018. A spokesperson told KUT on Thursday the authority currently has no plans to reopen it.

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Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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