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Local family struggles to find affordable housing despite section 8 voucher

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Posted at 7:54 PM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-01 11:35:08-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — With runaway home prices and skyrocketing rental costs, local families are struggling to find affordable housing, even with Section 8 Housing Vouchers.

According to the City of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Springs Housing Authority says vouchers aren't going as far as they used to because of rapidly rising rent costs. The city is concerned about the strain that it is putting on working and low-income families.

"We are trying to look for a place with this voucher but we have prospective landlords thinking it is no good and the people on these vouchers are less desirable," said Judith Miskell.

Miskell and her partner Penny Gilliland have been scrambling to find a new home after being priced out of their current one. Since starting their home search in October, the couple has been faced with a series of challenges.

"I was hung up on three times in looking for a home. Day and night, calling up rental agencies, and then there was a Realtor who said to our face that these vouchers aren't good," said Miskell. "How is it that we are going to rent a home with this voucher, credit or not when the market is the way it is. For example, in our area, our algorithm (payment standard) for a three-bedroom home or apartment is set to $1595 and most of the homes in the area are priced above that. The housing specialist says electricity must be included within the price, and nine times out of ten, what place is there on earth that has electricity included in the rent."

The couple obtained a Section 8 Voucher to help cut costs when their two granddaughters, one of which has special needs, came into their care.

"It would allow for more in-home care for her needs. We noticed she seems to do much better with me in the home so I cut back on hours from my job outside of the home as well as the job taking care of Penny's aunt inside of the home," said Miskell.

Between poor credit, landlords, and the current rental market, Miskell says it's nearly impossible to find a new home.

"There are a lot of issues with this system designed to help families like ours. We know of someone looking for a home as well, a one-bedroom home, and they're facing some of the same issues with credit as well. I think it's important to get the word out there because why would something that is designed to help families, a voucher, not have some sort of provisions that would go along with someone's credit that may not be good," said Miskell.

"We are out in eight days, and this could happen to anybody," said Gilliland.

The Office of Rental Assistance in the Colorado Department of Local Affairs says families in their Section 8 Voucher program report that their application is one of hundreds when units come online, and available units are difficult to locate as current renters are not moving at the rate they once were.

"It differs by the community, but in the metro Denver area, we are seeing a very saturated market meaning there are, I'm guessing, ten to twenty renters for every one unit. There are multiple people applying for any available unit because there just aren't any available units. The economy says great, the landlords can charge more for those units because they are a hot commodity," said Katherine Helgerson, Office of Rental Assistance.

Helgerson says each individual Public Housing Authority (PHA) has a limit on much funds each family can receive for rental assistance.

"We are only allowed to set our payment standard between 90 and 110 percent of what HUD publishes for each county so we can go as high as possible, but in some communities particularly in the metro area, we're not going to be able to reach those market rents. If we did go as high as we could, we'd serve fewer people," Helgerson.

She says there is a law that prohibits landlords from refusing to rent from voucher holders.

"We refer any tenant who says they told me no Section 8, their Craigslist ad says no Section 8, to the Colorado Civil Rights Division because they are spearheading the bill," said Helgerson.

The Colorado Springs Housing Authority says their Section 8 program is seriously underfunded by the United States Department of Housing and Development, but they've been working with several developers and community agencies to increase the number of affordable housing. In a statement, a spokesperson for HUD said the following:

The demand for housing assistance often exceeds the resources available to HUD and the local housing agencies, causing waiting periods. That is why HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge supports President Biden’s Build Back Better Framework that was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The plan contains a significant expansion of the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which would include funds to provide more housing support to families.

Anyone interested in helping the family find an affordable home can email them at Penny4Alex@gmail.com.