Housing Choice Vouchers helping Virginia Renters

This is a guest post by Jevante “JT” Phillips. JT is a Finance major at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business. JT is originally from Hampton, Virginia and plans to work on Wall Street. He is a Policy Fellow at Housing Opportunities Made Equal.

Because of the high cost of housing in Virginia, many families are finding themselves struggling to afford housing. Federal rental assistance programs are designed to help these families in poverty, by giving them the opportunity to rent homes at a rate they can afford. Currently in Virginia more than 3 out of 10 families are renters.  Federal rental assistance programs allow more than 100,000 low-income Virginia families access to housing. 90% of these families are headed by people who are elderly, have disabilities, or have children.

Although this figure may seem insignificant, the reality is that over 370,000 Virginians are spending too much on their housing costs. Spending a disproportionately large proportion of their income on housing, means these families have less to spend on basic necessities such as food, health care and transportation. Out of these Virginians more than 201,000 of them are spending more than half of their monthly income on housing. This means that virtually all of their money is being spent on just housing and the basic necessities. For these Virginians, their risk for being homeless in the future is dramatically higher. What is even more alarming is that nearly 7 out of 10 of these families (that spend over half of their income on housing) are elderly, have disabilities, or have children.

Currently there are seven prominent federal assistance programs established to help low-income families. Of these, the most significant to Virginians is the Housing Choice Voucher program. Housing Choice Vouchers account for over 40% of all federal rental assistance used in Virginia and they allow over 42,000 families the opportunity to rent quality housing in the private market at a price they can afford.

Housing Choice Vouchers are distributed by local government agencies, being dispersed by 41 local agencies within Virginia. With Housing Choice Vouchers, a low-income family who meets certain qualifications is allowed to choose a community of their choice, to relocate their family to. This program helps de-concentrate poverty, and grants families opportunities that other income level families often take for granted such as better schools and safer communities.

Unfortunately only 89% of these vouchers granted to Virginia are being used. This is a decline from 2004, when 94% of these vouchers were being used. Although it is common for local agencies to reserve some of these vouchers to anticipate changes, with so many Virginia families spending more on housing than they can afford, it is imperative that they disperse more housing vouchers. Some agencies such as Norfolk Redevelopment Housing Authority, Charlottesville Redevelopment Housing Authority, Franklin Redevelopment Housing Authority, and Total Action Roanoke are dispersing less than 70% of their vouchers, a staggering statistic considering the poverty rates today.

On the other side of the spectrum, local agencies such as Marion Redevelopment Housing Authority, Wytheville Redevelopment, and Petersburg Redeployment Housing Authority release 98% or more of their available vouchers. By releasing these vouchers, they understand that they are promoting economic equality, and giving families a chance at a better quality life.  Although the right to disperse funds is granted to localities, if Congress passed the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act, they would be encouraging agencies to disperse more vouchers, thus giving many more Virginia families access to communities of opportunity so they can work their way out of poverty.

Virginia Federal Rental Assistance Fact Sheet. May 4 2011.

Housing Choice Voucher Data for Virginia. Sept 21 2011.


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