Disturbing Trend: Housing Authorities Out of Touch with Section 8 Housing
Section 8 housing is what's offered to those who cannot afford to rent an apartment, townhouse, or house on their own. Unlike the old "towers" run by the federal government, it's much more common for those who qualify for Section 8 housing to be given "vouchers". Vouchers are essentially checks from the federal government to landlords. Landlords do not have to take these in most cases, but many, especially in lower-income areas, will take them out of necessity.
Of course, such a program is completely necessary for a functional society. Without having any assistance or safety net, we would see many more homeless people than we already do. However, a disturbing trend has emerged since vouchers became more mainstream. Local housing authorities under the program are allowed to "rate" themselves in tallies that can qualify or disqualify them from federal grants. A recent study in Connecticut showed that this was as far as possible from the truth.
Propublica recently published long-term research on the disparity between how local housing authorities versus residents see properties. According to Propublica's research and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than 90% of them said their accommodations were "perfect" all across the state.
Hartford, a large metro area in Connecticut, is one such location. While its local housing authority says its services are "perfect", there are so many residents in need of Section 8 housing that the waitlist of the waitlist for Section 8 vouchers in the city is now closed. This means for those who cannot travel that they must either remain on the streets or somehow find a shelter.
On the other hand, smaller towns and cities that are reputed to be safe and have high-quality schools tend to go out of their way to ensure that not many Section 8 residents live there. Though many of them classify their systems as "perfect", some Section 8 recipients are systemically denied housing in these areas due to the belief of some of the population that they're bad for the locality.
The Causes of the Issue
Causes for this issue are multifaceted. First, major cities like Hartford often have a ratio of 400 Section 8 applicants per social worker. This can majorly delay queues. There isn't much of an incentive for them to speed up the process, either. In the late 1990s, the federal government formed a system where localities can grade themselves on the Section 8 program without any input from residents, naturally leading to this problem.
Additionally, almost all of the information the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gets regarding Section 8 programs is from localities themselves. They allegedly, for a perfect rating, should describe in detail where the safer neighborhoods are, how many affordable or free rental units are available, and more to potential recipients. There should also be enough housing for everyone who requires it. When questioned by newspapers on whether these materials were provided, small towns and large metros alike tended to give a mediocre reply with a map of zip codes and the amount of housing. For questions beyond that, they told newspapers they weren't interested in commenting and to reach out to HUD for additional questions.
Yes, that's correct. The localities who run it "perfectly" are not willing to show the public how they run their Section 8 systems. However, they still get federal funding bonuses because of this rating.
What About Other States?
Connecticut is a bit of an outlier in this regard. It's one of the few states where there isn't a centralized Section 8 oversight committee. For example, the State of Maryland has a state-level committee of legislators who oversee county-run programs for Section 8 programs. This is mostly to ensure that abuse of the system doesn't happen. Not every state has such stringent controls, but most don't just give every locality free reign and hope they don't lie, as Connecticut does.
Who Are the Real Victims?
Unfortunately, rating inferior programs as "perfect" helps nobody besides bureaucrats. The impoverished remain homeless, and many people too disabled to work remain at the mercy of shelters and federal programs. Connecticut is looking at changing its program, but it's an excellent case study on the importance of researching your state's Section 8 program before applying for housing assistance there.
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