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Section 8 Housing: What You Need to Know About Public Assistance

If you cannot afford to pay standard market prices for rent, assistance for housing is made available through local public housing authorities in many areas of the country, including in the city of Spokane. This kind of assistance, which authorizes the local authority to pay a portion of rent to private landlords, is designated through Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937, so the choices available to low-income families are therefore widely referred to as “Section 8 housing.” Persons must apply to the local Public Housing Authority (PHA) in order to qualify for Section 8 properties and the application process requires the right kinds of documentation. Common scenarios also involve being placed on a waiting list or being chosen from a lottery of applicants.

Spokane’s local housing assistance program is called the Spokane Housing Authority (SHA) and there are several properties in the area that are designated as Section 8 housing. The application process itself is relatively simple; however, if you are approved, you may still need to wait to be chosen from the lottery of other approved applicants in order to secure your housing. This article helps you understand the process and issues involved in applying for Section 8 in Spokane, WA, specifically, and provides you with an idea of what kinds of housing is available in the area.

How to Apply for Section 8 Housing

Section 8 was a 1974 amendment to the Housing Act of 1937, a mandate which was created during the Great Depression. Section 8 authorizes local housing authorities to help low-income households pay their rent. Participating landlords must meet fair housing laws, but they are not required to participate in the Section 8 program.

Low-income households who have been determined to qualify for Section 8 housing receive a voucher, and in Spokane, there are both tenant and project-based vouchers. To put it most simply, tenant-based vouchers go with you and your household if you decide to move into another Section 8 designated property, while project-based vouchers are only valid as long as you stay in your current place. In Spokane, you may move with your tenant-based voucher after 12 months of stay at your current place.

In addition to the two kinds of rent-based vouchers, Spokane also has a mortgage assistance program, popularly called the Tenant-Based Section 8 Homeownership Program. It works similarly to the regular tenant-based voucher, as after 12 months of assistance, qualified households may be able to receive assistance from the Spokane Housing Authority (SHA) to assist with mortgage payments.

Eligibility for Section 8 housing sets a limit that states as a family/household, you must make less than 50% of the median income for your city or designated area. Most low-income households in fact make 30% of the median income or less. You must also be a U.S. citizen or non-citizen of legal immigration status, and there are other asset and household composition factors that you must meet. The SHA can work with you to help you apply and provide the right kinds of documentation.

When you apply, the housing authority will calculate your monthly adjusted gross income for you using all of the information you provide and determine your eligibility. In general, it is a good idea to document and provide proof of income and housing costs. Helpful things to have on hand include paystubs and written verification from your property owner or a copy of your lease stating the amount of rent you pay each month. If you qualify, you will only be required to pay 30% of your monthly adjusted gross income towards rent.

Even if you are determined to qualify for Section 8 housing, it is likely that you will be on a (long) waiting list, as there are typically more people who qualify than the PHA can afford to assist. In the Spokane area, for example, the waiting period has been averaging 3-6 years for applicants who have qualified and there is lottery-based waitlist for persons and households who have already qualified. The SHA website provides updates on which lottery participants they are currently assisting and information about where to get updates 24 hours per day.

Section 8 Housing in Spokane

In Spokane, there are a total of fourteen properties throughout the city that are SHA designated. This section will discuss some of the general features of the buildings and compare several of them so that you can get an idea of what to expect when something becomes available.

Building and Apartment Size

SHA-designated buildings typically have anywhere from 51-75 units, although there are also smaller apartment communities such as Valley 206 Apartments, which has 19 units total. The units are usually one or two bedrooms, but Cornerstone Courtyards, which is located downtown, has 3 bedroom units and are reserved for households of at least 4 persons. The SHA owns 125 units, which vary in terms of being single-family homes, duplexes, and triplexes, and it also owns the Parsons Community.

Neighborhood and Area Locations

Spokane has Section 8 housing throughout many parts of the city, including Hillyard, downtown, and the North Hill. SHA maintains a waiting list for the properties, so you can apply and wait for the assistance if you are determined to be eligible for it. The buildings vary in appearance according to where they are located, with many offering only bare-bones accommodations and others providing deluxe amenities. The downtown properties, for example, have especially aesthetically pleasing exteriors and there are greenery and swings for children to play on as well as a recreation hall and picnic area.

Features and Amenities

The buildings that participate in Section 8 offer basic apartment features and building amenities, including on-site laundry facilities and air conditioning in the units. In many cases, especially in the downtown buildings, there is also secure or controlled access to the building. Some buildings offer additional amenities such as a gym, computer room with WiFi access, a community room, tennis courts, sauna, pool, and close access to the major commercial and retail areas of the city. The amenities are not necessarily concentrated in one particular building and each varies in terms of what they offer together.

Additional Criteria: Living in Individual Buildings

As mentioned briefly above, some of the Section 8 buildings have additional requirements. Some properties reserve their 3 bedroom units for families of 4 or more persons and there are other buildings that limit occupancy according to particular needs. For example, Hifumi En is an apartment community that houses elderly (62 and over) and differently-abled persons who are determined to be extremely low-income and who may need particular types of assistance related to mobility and transportation. Sharon Lord Apartments is reserved as permanent housing for families who are graduating from transitional housing and Newark Apartments are for special needs residents with a very low income. Courtview Apartments, on the other hand, is SHA housing that is designed to serve different households with a variety of income levels within Section 8 requirements.

Here, it is important to note that the building and unit designs will vary according to the needs of the communities they intend to serve. Thus, Hifumi En and Newark Apartments will be extraordinarily accessible for the elderly and differently abled persons with special needs, while Cornerstone Courtyards has 3-bedroom units because it is meant to accommodate households of 4 or more people.

Summary of Section 8/Spokane Housing Authority: Variety versus Access

If you apply for a Section 8 voucher, you do not have to resign yourself to living in a bare room with only a light bulb. For starters, all Section 8 buildings must meet Housing Quality Standard (HQS) and moreover, many of them have basic and additional building amenities that help to make people feel like they are living in a community and like they have access to the wider world. The Section 8 program in Spokane is designed to help many people transition to better opportunities whenever possible and also provides housing as a resource for those who cannot necessarily. There are a range of options for Section 8 housing according to your income requirement and household, whether you have special needs or if you are a family in the process of trying to own your own residence.

The major issue with Section 8 housing in Spokane is that there is a lottery and that the waitlist is currently closed as of early 2014. There are also different options for SHA-designated homes, but they are not necessarily “available” at all times. Many people these days qualify for Section 8 housing, and the general trend is that people have to wait for assistance because most local public housing authorities do not have the funds available to help everyone who does. Spokane is, however, a great place to choose from Section 8 housing if you can manage to secure a spot.