Winning the lottery in Durham could mean the difference between having a home or not.
Two years ago, 6,500 people applied to get on a waiting list for “housing choice vouchers,” also known as Section 8. Only 1,500 made the list.
Next week, the lottery opens again and 1,500 people will be added to the waiting list.
“Poor people in Durham can’t afford to live in Durham anymore,” said community activist Jackie Wagstaff. “This Durham explosion is to the deficit of poor people in Durham, even if they work.”
The poverty rate in Durham County is 16.1 percent, according to the U.S. Census.
Durham Housing Authority’s housing choice vouchers help cover rent so residents don’t pay more than 30 percent of their adjusted income, which is after deductions like children. The tenants get to choose where they live, but they also need to find a landlord who will accept the vouchers. In Durham now, there are about 150 people with vouchers who have not found a landlord who will take them.
DHA has 2,801 housing vouchers total.
“We need more affordable housing,” said Denita Johnson, housing choice voucher program director at DHA. “We need those landlords willing to participate in the program.” She said apartment complexes that accept many of the DHA choice vouchers include Falls Pointe and Hardee Terrace.
Wagstaff, a former City Council and school board member, thinks the city should give small landlords incentives for accepting vouchers. If there was more subsidized housing, “people wouldn’t have to go live up under the bridge,” she said.
Before residents even get to the point of looking for subsidized housing, they need a voucher. And to get a voucher, they need to get on the waiting list. That’s where the lottery comes in.
The waiting list is limited to 1,500 people, Johnson explained, because only 25 to 50 vouchers become available each month. It takes about two years to work through the people on the waiting list. If the list was any longer, people would be waiting over two years.
The waiting list lottery application is online only, Johnson said, because otherwise people would line up outside in the middle of the night and in the summer heat. With the online forms, she said, people can apply 24/7 during the one week the lottery occurs. She said the application is on a different domain than the housing authority system so it can support the load of users at once.
Durham Housing Authority CEO Anthony Scott said he has worked at housing authorities with voucher waiting lists so large that people have been on them for eight or nine years. That size of a list is hard to manage, and people’s families’ change over time, he said.
“We don’t want the list overly stale,” he said.
Vouchers: At a glance
What is a housing choice voucher? It used to be called Section 8. It is funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered through the Durham Housing Authority. Choice vouchers allow tenants to find housing in the private market and use a voucher to subsidize their rent so they don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income.
Who’s eligible: U.S. citizens or those with eligible immigration status. Ages 18 and older. There’s a criminal background check, but it doesn’t necessarily disqualify you. Income limits are $28,250 for one person and $40,300 for a four-person household.
What you need: Date of birth, Social Security number, address and general income information to add to entry forms. Also include date of birth, social security numbers and income information for others in the household.
When: 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 20 through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26. It doesn’t matter which day you apply, as the waiting list is chosen by a computerized lottery.
How: Applications are online only at dhavouchers.org. Or you can apply using computers at the Durham Housing Authority office (330 E. Main St.), East Regional Library (211 Lick Creek Lane), North Regional Library (221 Milton Road), Southwest Regional Library (3605 Shannon Road) and South Regional Library (4505 S. Alston Ave.)
How many times can you apply? Only once per person per lottery.
How will I know I got on the list? You will get a letter in the mail in October or early November. If you write down your confirmation number, a list of winning confirmation numbers will be posted on the Durham Housing Authority website in late September.
Then what? DHA will notify you when you may receive a voucher and get off the waiting list, then you go to a mandatory orientation session. Once residents have a voucher, they have 90 days to find an apartment or house.
Other kinds of housing vouchers
Another type of voucher is a project-based voucher, which is subsidized housing attached to a specific project and building. The Veranda at Whitted School uses 46 project-based voucher apartments, Johnson said.
When some public housing communities in Durham are eventually redeveloped, they will use project-based vouchers.
Public housing, where eligible residents can live their entire lives if they don’t violate any rules, has a waiting list of 3,775 people. Residents who live in public housing can also apply for the housing choice vouchers to live somewhere else.
What about homeless shelter residents?
There are 225 choice vouchers set aside per year in Durham County for homeless services groups.
Families Moving Forward, which works with homeless families with children, has had 14 families obtain housing with choice vouchers since last fall, said executive director Ryan Fehrman. They have 12 more families still looking for landlords that will accept the vouchers.
The choice vouchers are an “incredible subsidy for housing,” he said, but the demand far exceeds the supply.
“For folks who don’t make the lottery, there’s not a lot of real options. Really it’s just to keep hanging on,” Fehrman said.
“My personal belief is when someone has stable housing, whether subsidized or not, it is far more cost effective for the community,” he said.