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Seattle Housing Crunch Collides With Those Seeking Federal Housing Assistance

Ashley Gross

A new secretary of housing and urban development, Ben Carson, was sworn this week. Officials who help low-income people get housing in Seattle say it’s not clear how the new HUD secretary’s policies might affect this area. But one thing is certain -- there are many more people asking for federal help with housing than will receive it.  

Almost 22,000 people are awaiting word of whether they’ll be able to get a Housing Choice Voucher to help pay rent in Seattle. But only 3,500 households will be waitlisted to actually receive the vouchers, which are given out over a couple of years. These are the federal housing subsidies sometimes called Section 8 vouchers.

Kerry Coughlin of Seattle Housing Authority says on top of the long line of people, there’s also the grim reality voucher recipients face in finding an affordable place to live.

“There is a law in the city of Seattle  that landlords cannot discriminate on the source of income, but it’s still just a very, very competitive market," said Coughlin. "It’s not just about the leasing process and whether the landlord will accept people who have a voucher as part of their payment, but it’s really more around the prices of rents in Seattle.”

When registering, people sometimes give additional details about their story. Here’s what Coughlin said she heard in the last go-around, in 2015:

“Probably the highest single cause that I saw of people struggling with housing were medical issues – where they had had a home, stable jobs, raising their families and something happened and they lose their housing and find themselves with nowhere to go,” said Coughlin.  

Many people also reported they were working several jobs while taking care of children and elderly family members.  

Coughlin says they’ll notify registrants at the end of this month by mail to let them know whether they’ve been randomly chosen by lottery to be waitlisted for the vouchers. Once on the list, homeless people are given preference for the subsidy. Those who do not get vouchers will be sent other resources, including how to get on public housing waitlists.

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