Long housing voucher wait lists prompt calls for action in reconciliation bill

By: - July 23, 2021 6:04 am

Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority public housing property that was converted through a program allowing private companies to manage and rehabilitate public housing in exchange for tax credits and subsidies. (SNHRA photo)

Nevadans wait an average of 38 months, more than three years, to receive housing vouchers, according to a report released Thursday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

And unless the federal government expands and intensifies its meager housing voucher program, those wait times won’t be getting any shorter, the report concludes.

The group examined wait times in 500 largest housing authorities across the nation. 

Approximately 11,590 households received assistance from the Housing Choice Voucher program with the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority. In Southern Nevada, the average wait was 39 months. 

The Nevada Rural Housing Authority, which has 1,327 clients, had a 23-month wait time. 

Though Southern Nevada is included among the 50 largest housing authorities with years-long averages, Sonya Acosta, a policy analyst with the group who authored the report, said the problem is widespread.

“On average nationally, families who receive vouchers have spent close to two and a half years on wait lists, exposing them to homelessness, overcrowding, evictions and other hardships,” she said. “Among the 50 largest housing agencies, the longest wait time is more than 8 years. Only two agencies have average wait times of under a year for the families who made it on to a waiting list. To be clear, any wait at all is too long when you’re faced with homelessness or living in an unsafe place.”

With low housing stock, increased rent rates and little tenant protections, Nevada, like most if not all states, is in the middle of a housing crisis that was only exacerbated by the pandemic. 

The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported in 2021 there is no state or city where an employee working full-time at 40-hours a week can afford a two-bedroom rental

The hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom in Nevada is $21.83. The state’s current minimum wage recently increased to $8.75 or $9.75 if employers don’t offer health care.

The housing crisis disproportionately affects people of color, Acosta said.

“Black, Latino and Native American people are much more likely to experience housing insecurity and homelessness due to a long history of racist housing policies and racial discrimination that has limited their economic opportunites,” she said.

Data also shows “housing instability causes lasting harm” including lasting stress, disrupting children’s learning and making finding or keeping a job more difficult.

Housing vouchers, she added, are a necessary tool that could “bridge the gap between rent and income and alleviate that hardship.”

“Vouchers are proven to sharply reduce homelessness, housing stability and overcrowding,” she said. “By lowering rental costs, vouchers also allow low-income people to spend more on other basic needs like food and medicine. They also provide people with greater choice on where they live, allowing them to make decisions on what works best for them, whether it’s staying in their current home or moving to a neighborhood with a well-sourced school or closer to their job.”

She added that housing vouchers have never been funded at the levels needed, resulting in the long wait times seen in the report.  

Even with the new data, the wait times don’t paint the full picture of the need. 

Millions, Acosta said, aren’t even able to get on a wait list or face barriers when applying. 

“The average wait time for people is generally much longer for people,” she said. “For example, in Dallas, Texas, the average wait time is 8 months. But, households must first wait to be selected by lotteries to be placed on the waitlist. Essentially there is a wait list for the wait list. So a family’s actual wait time is much longer.”

The Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority opened up its lottery system for housing vouchers in March and saw more than 10,000 applicants. 

As federal discussions around the American Jobs Plan, President Biden’s infrastructure package, and other economic recovery priorities ramp up in Congress, some see an opportunity to invest in housing. 

“The upcoming recovery package provides Congress with an historic opportunity to create a real housing safety net,” Acosta said. “It should include substantial multi-year funding for new housing vouchers. A significant expansion of the program would help more people access rental assistance when they first need it instead of facing years of hardship and uncertainty.”

Sharon Parrott, the president of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, said while there is a lot of framework for legislation, “it is only the first step in enacting recovery legislation and there is certainly a long way to go.”

Parrott said the pandemic only underscored the need to invest federally in housing, whether it’s updating infrastructure or funding rental assistance programs. 

“While the pandemic highlighted the challenges, they weren’t new,” she said. “Long before the pandemic millions of households struggled because their incomes just weren’t enough to afford housing. Nearly 11 million households spent half of their income on rent in 2018.”

The federal eviction moratorium is set to expire July 31. 

“An estimated 11.4 million adults were not caught up on rent according to Census data collected in late June and early July,” she said “This burden falls heavily on renters of color who are substantially more likely to report their household wasn’t caught up on rent.”

Because of the amount of struggle renters are facing, she said it shows “housing should be a key piece in economic recovery legislation that seeks to build a more equitable future.”

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.