Not everyone benefits from a good economy. For some low-income families in Alhambra who are enrolled in the Housing Choice Vouchers Section 8 program, economic growth means it may be harder for them to keep their apartments, or find new living arrangements.
Section 8 is a government housing assistance program that is designed to help low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled pay their rent and move into low-poverty areas. The Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles operates the Section 8 program within the County, and its jurisdiction includes 62 cities with the County. Alhambra is one of them. Many Section 8 participants have to wait a long time to find available units, especially during an economic boon.
“We have such low vacancy rates right now. Landlords can be very picky to whom they rent to,” said Emilio Salas, Deputy Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles. As the economy strengthens, landlords have an easier time filling vacancies. They prefer to lease units to renters from the open market, instead of low-income families from the Section 8 program. “It is the landlord’s choice whether to let somebody move in,” said Salas.
While fewer landlords want to accommodate Section 8 families, there is still a significant number of applicants in the housing program. “We got more than 40,000 people on the waiting list for Section 8, countywide,” Salas told the Source.
Moreover, some landlords are hesitant to deal with the housing authority due to the language barrier, as many of them are non-English speakers. Some don’t like to process paper work that's written in a second language. Landlords are also concerned about cost-efficiency, since it is easier to sign a single contract with a tenant, instead of signing contracts with both the government and tenant. “It is very difficult to convince those landlords in a market like this,” said Salas.
The situation can still be precarious for Section 8 participants who have found housing; landlords can opt out of the agreements when a lease is over. “We can’t force the landlord one way or the other,” said Salas, “All we do is pay rent on the participant’s behalf.”
Helen Xia is a Section 8 participant who used to live in the Ramona Garden Apartment complex in Alhambra. She claimed the managers treated her unfairly and, eventually, evicted her in January. “They have been threatening me that they will kick me out since we had disputes last year,” said Xia.
One of the prevailing issues for Xia and other Section 8 participants is that, once without a home, it's hard to find a new Section 8 unit immediately, and it’s only becoming harder in a booming market.
In some other cities in the LA County, such as the City of Los Angeles, there is a Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) to regulate landlords over relocation expenses and rent increases. Alhambra has not adopted those rules. “There is a lack of laws and regulations to protect the tenant’s benefit once they get evicted in Alhambra and some other cities in San Gabriel Valley,” said Xingzhou Liu, the Community Engagement Manager at Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
One piece of good news is that the Section 8 voucher is valid nationwide. Participants can move to other areas or even other states to find an apartment. Meanwhile, the housing authority has been working on campaigns to enroll more landlords into the program in order to meet the high demand.
But, considering the upward trends in the housing market, the outlook is unfavorable for many Section 8 participants. They may have to wait a long time to find a place in a preferred area, or move to a less desirable area with a higher vacancy rate.
Editor's Note: Some interviews were translated from Chinese.