Roanoke’s Redevelopment and Housing Authority looking for solutions as Section 8 applicants struggle to find affordable housing

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 5:14 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Applicants on the Section 8 waitlist are still struggling to find affordable housing in the Roanoke Valley. No one has moved off of the wait list since it opened five months ago, and it all comes down to cost.

The executive director of the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority explained how if rent prices keep going up, applicants are going to be on the waitlist longer.

“This is a really serious problem,” David Bustamante said. “This is the biggest population that’s rising right now, as far as desperate need for housing.”

It’s not the first time there’s been a long Section 8 waitlist, but this is the first time voucher holders have not been able to find any affordable housing.

One woman was on the 2019 waitlist for three and a half years before she finally found affordable housing in November 2022 with the housing choice voucher that Section 8 provides.

“It was a very stressful time, just working paycheck to paycheck to try and make ends meet,” Nicole Barker said. “It’s so hard to find something when you’re looking, especially when you’re on Section 8 because a lot of landlords aren’t participating in Section 8 or the rent is unaffordable.”

We keep seeing the term “affordable housing,” but what exactly is affordable?

According to a report done by RRHA, when your rent is 30% of your income, that’s considered affordable. But if a family of four brings $27,750 a year, and rent is $1,800 for a three-bedroom unit, it creates a rent burden where a household pays more than 40% of its income for rent. In the RRHA report, the rent burden for a family bringing in $27,750 with a rent of $1,800 is 78%.

“That’s really not realistic for anybody,” Barker said. “I think that we need to come together as a community and find a solution.”

Multiple housing developments have popped up around the Roanoke Valley, but if rent is more than $875 a month for a one-bedroom unit, RRHA’s vice president of housing explained that’s not affordable.

“The problem is going to continue to grow,” Evangeline Richie said. ”A lot of these families go to those week-by-week motels just to be able to afford a place to live.”

The housing authority has stated the short-term solution is to have more landlords participate in the program. Officials are looking into developing an affordable housing property with up to 90 units for a long-term solution.

The housing authority is still helping people from the 2019 waitlist. That means no one who applied in 2022 has been able to find housing through Section 8.