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Seniors tress over the loss of their Section 8 vouchers

December 23, 2017 GMT

Sharon Peckham and her husband have lived in their Marysville apartment for four years.

It’s been a good fit for the couple, both in their 80s and living on a fixed-income, with some financial help from Section 8 housing vouchers.

But their landlord gave them notice he is opting out of the Section 8 program, so they have until Feb. 1 to find a new place that will accept the housing vouchers. And if the couple doesn’t find something affordable soon, the voucher expires and they will be left to foot the entire bill or face homelessness.

“I just don’t know what we’re going to do, and we’re not the only ones,” Peckham said Friday. “I just don’t think it’s right, especially now at the holidays.”

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But she acknowledged that her landlord was within his rights in serving no-cause notices to tenants using Section 8 housing vouchers to supplement rent.

Of Peckham’s $690-a-month rent, she and her husband pay $488, while the voucher covers the rest.

In Sutter and Yuba counties, there are about 1,300 Section 8 voucher users, said Gustavo Becerra, executive director of the Regional Housing Authority – roughly 900 in Sutter County and 400 in Yuba County, with a waitlist currently closed.

Landlords can opt in and out of the program, Becerra said, and must give their tenants timely notice. If the tenant followed the rules of the program and lease agreement and there’s no cause, the landlord must give them a 90-day notice. If there’s cause for a tenant to leave sooner, the landlord can give them 30-day notice.

The trouble comes, Peckham said, with the amount of time Section 8 tenants are given to find new places to live. Becerra said tenants are typically given 60 days to find a new place to live, though extensions can be granted.

“We have to be out by Feb. 1,” Peckham said. “There’s nothing in sight and it’s almost January.”

Becerra said this is made more difficult with the competitive pool of renters also trying to find affordable housing.

“Inventory is low, and the demand is high for rental housing on all levels – market-rate and affordable,” Becerra said. “We’re in one of the tightest crunches that we’ve ever seen in our industry in California.”

And there are no signs of it getting any better, he said. Just last December, the RHA’s affordable housing Kristen Court Apartments in Live Oak were completed. The certificate of occupancy was awarded the first part of the month and before the new year, it was fully leased, Becerra said.

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And in Williams, the authority expects construction on a 32-unit senior affordable housing complex to be completed in February; already, there are more applications than units.

The program is funded by federal dollars from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Becerra said, and tenants get more “points” with specific preferences, like being a veteran, being 62 years or older, being disabled, or being homeless. These preferences are then verified before a tenant is accepted.

There’s also a screening process before a tenant is awarded the voucher, Becerra said. Background checks are performed and tenants with any prior sex offender charges or violent criminal activity are not allowed. Tenants can receive this funding as long as they meet the income requirement. Once they start making “too much,” that spot opens for someone else.

“The big benefit to landlords is timely rent,” Becerra said, which the authority pays through direct deposit.

And with a more affordable rent, tenants are able to pay their portion in a more timely manner.

Becerra said affordable housing is also a huge benefit to economic development.

The average monthly housing assistance payment is about $510, he said.

“For 1,300 vouchers, that’s about an $8 million injection into the rental market that, without it, would put a big hurt on the rental market community,” Becerra said.

And that doesn’t include the tenant’s portion of the rent.

“When you have the family that lives in an affordable unit, that creates disposable income for that family... as opposed to every last dime going to rent,” Becerra said. “Affordable housing equals economic development.”

For Peckham and her husband, health issues and age hinder their ability to look for a new place to live, let alone pack up their belongings to leave.

“What money we do have, we have to save back to try to move. It costs about $2,000 just to move,” she said. “Take that out of $1,400 and you’re going to end up losing something somewhere.”

Carla Jara, program specialist for Employment Services at Yuba County Health and Human Services, said there’s homeless assistance and a housing support system, though it’s usually geared toward adults with dependent children through CalWorks. Jara recommended those needing assistance in finding housing to reach out to the county’s new coordinated entry site, which is at the Life Building Center at 131 F Street (749-6811). The coordinated entry site in Yuba City is at Hands of Hope at 909 Spiva Avenue (755-3491).

In the meantime, the Peckham’s are trying to get through the holidays knowing the challenge that’s in front of them.

“It’s been a real drain, physically and mentally,” Peckham said.