A mother of five thought she was a shoo-in for Glendale’s affordable housing voucher waitlist in the summer of 2021. After more than 11,000 people from the country applied for just 350 spots, however, she received a devastating email: she didn’t get it.
The Glendale voucher lottery is emblematic of affordable housing struggles across the state and the country, the Arizona Republic reported. Many lotteries across the nation don’t factor residence into the system, meaning a local can be bumped out by someone from the other side of the country.
The Glendale Housing Authority opened applications for its housing choice voucher program in July 2021. In only three weeks, tens of thousands of applications flooded in, making it more difficult to get a waitlist opening than a Harvard acceptance letter. Applications came from 48 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.
The voucher program, formerly known as Section 8, subsidizes a large portion of rent for low-income households. Tenants pay 30 percent of their income on rent, while the voucher takes care of the rest.
But the programs are frequently overwhelmed by applications, necessitating waiting lists and plenty of rejections. So-called waitlist shoppers have taken to applying for affordable housing programs across the country, desperate to find some place they can afford to live.
Glendale’s voucher program is a lottery, so those picked for a waitlist spot are random. More than a dozen households from Chicago made it on to the waitlist that Cecilia Arvizo missed out on.
“I’ve got five babies in the car with me, and you’re telling me I didn’t make it in the lottery,” Arvizo thought after the rejection, according to the publication. A year and a half later, her family remains without a permanent home.
Many experts didn’t find fault in the Glendale system so much as fault in the affordable housing system altogether. There are way fewer homes available for low-income families than families struggling to make rent.
One solution pitched by the experts was to allow anyone who qualifies for a voucher able to receive one. In 2020, the Urban Institute determined such a program would help nearly 20 million additional people, though it would come at a hefty cost: $62 billion.
That program wouldn’t solve another issue with vouchers — many can’t use them because the units need to be below a certain price limit and some landlords discriminate against those looking to pay with vouchers.
— Holden Walter-Warner