The Housing Choice Voucher Program, or Section 8, is the largest affordable housing program in the United States to date. This year, only 2,000 Section 8 vouchers will be granted to residents in Berkeley even though more than 20,000 residents applied, as first reported by Berkeleyside.
Section 8 housing vouchers are federal subsidies granted to low-income residents for the purpose of finding “affordable, decent, safe and sanitary housing,” according to the Berkeley Housing Authority website.
Local housing advocate Darrell Owens said in an email that the Section 8 vouchers cover 70% of rent through federal subsidies, but that the 2,000 recipients must find housing within 120 days or their voucher expires.
Owens expressed the importance of Section 8 vouchers, stating that Berkeley’s “50-year long housing shortage” has caused many to depend on these subsidies. Owens added many of the residents who do not get the voucher could face houselessness or displacement.
“If you don’t get the voucher you’ll likely continue to live in your substandard housing situation, become homeless or simply leave Berkeley until more vouchers open up next decade,” Owens said in the email. “There’s no support because the federal government doesn’t fund enough vouchers or public housing and Berkeley’s housing shortage is too intense to live even semi-comfortably here.”
According to Celinda Aguilar-Vasquez, the acting management analyst at Berkeley Housing Authority, the large number of people that applied for these vouchers can be attributed to skyrocketing rent prices,
Aguilar-Vasquez said voucher recipients were by a random drawing, noting that the last time the waitlist was opened was in March 2010 and the city received over 40,000 applications.
City Councilmember Rigel Robinson said in an email the demand for affordable housing in Berkeley greatly outweighs the supply, and encouraged residents to vote in favor of Measure L in the upcoming fall 2022 midterm elections.
“This November, Berkeley voters will have the opportunity to vote for Measure L, which will raise $200 million for construction of new affordable homes,” Robinson said in the email. “It is imperative that this measure pass, so we can develop the affordable units we need to turn this housing crisis around.”
Like Robinson, Owens also outlined potential city initiatives aimed at addressing the growing housing crisis.
Owens stated housing issues can be addressed by exploring ways to prohibit voucher discrimination in the form of fees and penalties and by allocating more taxes to construct more subsidized housing at a faster rate.
Erica Jean contributed to this story.