ITHACA, N.Y. — Hundreds of people in Tompkins County rely on housing assistance and there are not enough vouchers to keep up with the demand.

At the Health and Human Services Committee meeting Monday, legislators got an overview of local housing assistance and what barriers people face accessing housing, from months- or years-long waiting lists to difficulty finding landlords who will accept Housing Choice Vouchers, or Section 8 vouchers.

The Housing Choice Voucher Section 8 program is a subsidized housing program that allocates federal funding for low-income families and individuals to rent in the private sector. More than 5 million people use vouchers in the U.S. It is a federal program funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered through local programs. In Tompkins County, those programs are Tompkins Community Action and Ithaca Housing Authority. Together, they administer nearly 2,000 vouchers in Tompkins County.

“(There are) 2,000 vouchers in this community and it’s not enough,” Danielle Harrington, of Tompkins Community Action, said.

The number of vouchers the community receives is based on population and whether the vouchers are all utilized.

In 2017, Tompkins Community Action alone paid out nearly $8.4 million in subsidies to landlords renting units in the county. That covered 995 households.

The waiting list can range from 12 to 36 months, Harrington said, and preference is given to veterans, elderly, disabled individuals and families before single individuals. If someone is approved for a voucher, they have 60 days to find an apartment. They must also come up with the security deposit, which can be a barrier.

Other common barriers include finding units in the City of Ithaca or a specific school district, transportation (such as rural bus routes), bad credit or no credit, stereotypes of “Section 8 renters” and rental application fees.

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If someone is approved for the program, Tompkins Community Action will provide a housing list, the participant selects an available unit they can afford that is under the Fair Market Rent set by HUD and the unit must be inspected to make sure it meets health and safety requirements. The program typically covers the rent balance that exceeds 30 percent of a renter’s income.

The Fair Market Rent price is the same for units in the City of Ithaca as it is for more rural areas of Tompkins County. For a two-bedroom unit, the FMR is calculated to be $1,164.

Fair Market Rent for 2018

Legislator Anna Kelles asked about concerns landlords may have with participating. For example, she said some people have concerned if they have someone renting with a voucher and they want to sell the apartment, are they restricted in how and when they can sell it? Harrington said landlords can sell their property any time, but the lease goes with the property.

If they had more funding, Harrington said she would like to see more education for both tenants and landlords.

Workshops and education for landlords is a topic this year for the Continuum of Care, too, which is calling for proposals for a workshop series for landlords to teach them more about people who receive subsidies and also to try to help landlords increase the livability of their units, Tierra Labrada said in a recent interview about homelessness and housing in Tompkins County.

Asked if landlord interest in participating has gone up or down in recent months, Harrington said in the last six months they have had increased interest form landlords.

Outside of Housing Choice Vouchers, Harrington said Tompkins Community Action has other programs to help families, such as the Family Self Sufficiency Program helps participants increase employment, repair credit and set goals.

For more information about Housing Choice Vouchers, visit Tompkins Community Action or Ithaca Housing Authority.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.