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The vouchers cover up to 70% of housing costs.
The vouchers cover up to 70% of housing costs. Photo: Maritza Zuluaga/AL DÍA News

Over 37,000 apply for PHA housing vouchers, only 10,000 to make the final round

The return of the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s housing vouchers has seen an overwhelming amount of applications after a 12-year hiatus.

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When the Philadelphia Housing Authority announced on Tuesday, Jan. 9, that after more than 12 years, the city’s low-income residents would soon have the opportunity to once again apply for federal housing vouchers, it seemed like great news. 

10,000 applicants would be randomly chosen in a computerized lottery system to be placed on the waiting list. Applicants living, working, or have been recently hired to work in Philly, will get a preference. 

But heavy demand crashed the website on the first day of reopening, and now rising housing costs have created an overwhelming demand for the housing vouchers — that subsidize over 70% of housing costs — as tens of thousands who need it, will miss out. 

The PHA released a statement Friday, Feb. 10, that around 37,000 people applied for the housing voucher lottery, leaving over 27,000 unable to get into the lottery for this round, further highlighting the desperate need for affordable housing in the city. 

“Of those who applied, 91% of the applicants said they lived, work or were offered a job in Philadelphia. Nearly 64.6 percent indicated they were either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless showing the need for affordable housing in the city,” the statement read. 

But Kelvin A. Jeremiah, President and CEO of PHA, said that they expected even more applications. 

“Frankly, we are surprised that more people didn’t apply, but this lottery clearly shows that thousands of families urgently need affordable housing in our city. Our focus now is to help the 10,000 people who were selected in the lottery,” he said.

The statement also laid out the next plan of action now that the application period has concluded. A computer next will randomly select 10,000 applicants whose names will be added to the PHA waitlist. 

Two-thousand people on the waitlist will get processed immediately and receive vouchers if they are eligible and meet the income guidelines. PHA will send out letters in March that will inform applicants of their status. They also hope to exhaust the new waitlist in three to five years. 

The issue of housing in Philly is one of many economic problems facing the city that is the poorest of the nation’s 25 most populous cities. Roughly 23% of the households, or 350,602 individuals, are below the poverty rate with household incomes of $25,750 for a family of four. 

Those with a household income of $12,875 for a family of four, account for around 180,000 residents. 

There is also a notable disparity between white individuals and communities of color living in poverty — where less than 13% of white Philadelphians are living in poverty compared to 30% of Latinos, more than 28% of Black people, and just shy of 23% of Asian Americans. 

According to Community Legal Services attorney Jenna Collins, she told the Philadelphia Inquirer this population is vulnerable and was concerned that PHA had chosen to accept online applications only or over the phone rather than paper applications. 

She said that this could be a barrier to Philly’s lowest income citizens whose internet access might be limited as well as limited phone minutes.

“I was concerned about accessibility,” she said.

Another task to tackle is getting more landlords to get involved with the HCV program, even going as far as to create incentives for them. 

The housing authority initially created an incentive program in June 2021, that was due to expire this past December but was extended through the end of June 2023. 

Property owners can request a per-unit signing bonus of $300, and for landlords in an “opportunity area,” higher-income areas with better amenities, can get a $1,000 payment. 

It also includes an insurance fund that pays landlords up to $2,500 on top of the security deposit to repair damages to the unit after a tenant has moved out.

The PHA continues to incentivize landlords to participate to help meet the demand and also accrued over 800 new HCV landlords since 2021 when it first began offering HCV signing incentives. 

They recently extended the landlord recruitment campaign until June 2023 so any property owner interested should call 215-684-3875 or register online.

 

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations, focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

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