A statistic that is a good indicator of the challenges in the economy, that both shows how slowly it is growing as well as the high cost of housing in our country, is the number of people using Housing Choice Vouchers. As of the start of 2016, over 2.2 million households are enrolled. These households are made up of over 5 million unique unique individuals, or “soles”. All of these people are receiving assistance with their rental costs from the federal government.
While five million people are currently enrolled, there are millions of others that are on waiting lists. The exact number is hard for us to determine as each local PHA (public housing authority) maintains their own lists. However a sampling done by National Low Income Housing Coalition shows at minimum 2 millions households are waiting, and it may take at minimum 2 years for the list to be cleared. There are some ways to get a voucher expedited though, and find more information on how to apply for section 8.
We have also heard ancedotal evidence from some people on our site that they have been waiting 5 years, with one person saying they have been on a section 8 list since 2008!
Note this data on the number of people using the benefit as well as waiting lists was based on a sampling of a limited number of PHA. So the actual number of people waiting for a voucher may very well be closer to 10 million; but it is almost impossible to get an exact county.
We do not think there is an end in site though. Looking at the information in another way, the number of housing “insecure” households is at almost 20 million. This may be equivalent to about 5o unique individuals as 2016 starts. Insecure means that these families spend over 50% of their total household income for their rent/utility bills.
Many experts say what families should spend on housing should be around 20 to 30 percent over their income. We would like to see the percent much closer to 20, if not in the high teens. We like the lower percentage as families still need to buy food, pay for their electricity, and budget for other unexpected expenses.
So these “housing insecure” people spend almost twice of what they should! It would be be a surprise if many of these would be qualified for section 8 (if they just applied) or many may already be on these wait lists. It is just impossible to tell.
Our analysis of data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition as well as the Home Insecurity Dashboard shows that about 40% of housing “insecure” families have kids. This means that the children of this nation are at risk of homelessness or worse. This is a major problem facing our country that section 8 in itself can’t solve.
Since the demand for housing is still at a very high rate as we progress throughout 2016, the problem is not bound to go away anytime soon. Landlords have more pricing power than they have had in the last several years. In some of the major cities on the coats, such as Portland, New York, San Francisco, and other major metro areas, annual rents are going up 2 to 3 times higher than wage increases.
So this is driving even more people to apply for section 8. But the program may not be able to help them for many years…if ever. It is always recommended that you sign up for a voucher ASAP. As even if you sign up in say the middle of 2016, by the time you go through the full Housing Choice Voucher application process (and are either approved or denied) it may not be until 2018. And that is an optimistic timeframe!