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King County's High Rental Prices Put Section 8 Recipients In A Bind

"Downtown Bellevue, Washington aerial" by Doc Searls is licensed under CC BY 2.0

More than 11,000 households in King County rely on federal assistance to pay the rent. And that’s just in the county’s suburban cities and unincorporated areas – not including Seattle and Renton. Starting Wednesday, the waiting list to get this help – also known as Section 8 housing — will open up for only the second time since 2011.

Rental subsidies go to the neediest of people; more than half of households have at least one elderly or disabled member. Getting on the 3,500-person waitlist means you’re in line to get a voucher so you can rent from private landlords. 

But once your number comes up, finding housing can be difficult due to rising rents countywide, everywhere from White Center to Bellevue.

In fact, Rhonda Rosenberg with the King County Housing Authority says monthly requests from participating landlords to increase rents have nearly tripled between 2011 and 2016. That leaves Section 8 renters in a tough spot.

“A lot of people say, 'Section 8, you’ve got the golden ticket,' But if the subsidy amount doesn’t meet the prices in the market that you’re looking, you’re not going to find a place to stay, or it’s going to take you a really long time,” said Rosenberg.

The search for an affordable rental can take as long as six months. Rosenberg says the wait only prolongs all the problems that bring families in to seek help. That’s because stable housing underpins so many things, from grandparents managing chronic disease to children doing well in school.