By Victoria Rodgers, South Kern Sol

For the first time in a decade, the Housing Authority of the County of Kern (HA) has opened the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program Waiting List. The program—commonly known as Section 8—provides rental assistance vouchers to low-income households.

“Vouchers provide critically needed rental assistance for Kern County families. With these vouchers, participating families will only need to pay 30 percent of their income towards their monthly rent,” said HA Assistant Executive Director Heather Kimmel. “The HA then pays a housing subsidy directly to their landlord to cover the family’s remaining rent costs.”

One goal of this program is to help reduce the rent-burdens that Kern County families may be facing.

“Ideally, you wouldn’t want to pay more than 40 percent of your income towards rent,” Kimmel stated during a Facebook Live interview with Kern Sol News. “The less of your income that goes towards rent, the more stable your household is financially.”

Kimmel goes on to explain that paying more than 40 percent of your income towards rent leaves you with less money for food, clothes, and other necessities. Money for entertainment activities and hobbies would also be cut due to overpaying for housing.

“There’s a lot of studies that point to the connection between someone being overly rent burdened and very negative impacts for that household. It’s linked to increases in domestic violence. It’s linked to increases in children doing poorly in school,” stated Kimmel. “So, we really know that having affordable rent not only financially helps you, but it helps the whole family on so many different levels.”

Kimmel continued by saying this: “We know that sometimes people either can’t increase their income, or they’re facing situations in their life where their income has been reduced for some reason. We’ve seen a lot of that during the pandemic here. So the nice thing about a housing choice voucher program is that it’s that safety net that helps you pay your rent in a time where maybe you can’t afford all of it.”

The HA is expecting around 20,000 individuals to apply for the HCV Program this year and will issue about 400 over the course of the next year. Due to the high demand of the program, most applicants will experience a long wait.

HCV recipients will be randomly selected each month from the eligible Waiting List applicants. Applications are selected in a lottery-fashion, where each eligible applicant will have an equal chance of being selected. The selection is not based on the date and time an application is received and applicants are encouraged to apply anytime that is most convenient to them during the application window.

During the random selection of HCV recipients each month, preference may be given to applicants who:

▪ a person involuntarily displaced due to natural disaster, governmental action, avoiding reprisals, and/or victims of hate crimes

▪ veterans, servicemen and/or servicewomen

▪ homeless individuals and families

Residents of Kern County are given preference over applicants from other communities.

In addition to the reopening of the Waiting List, the HA is now adopting a new, annual process for HCV Waiting List applications.

“During the time when the list was closed, we would receive lots of phone calls from families that were experiencing that hardship for the first time. And the program wasn’t even available to them; they had no ability to even apply for it,” Kimmel revealed when asked about the policy change. “So we just decided that it would be a better practice to open the wait list up every year as we know that people situations change over time. It didn’t make sense to us to have a list that was closed for 10 years when we know that there’s people in our community that needed to apply for it during that period.”

With this change in policy, when the wait list opens up year, new interested renters will be able to apply. Each new year will create a new list.

The HCV Program Waiting List opened at 10 a.m. on January 28 and will remain open until 5 p.m. on February 28, giving interested renters a 30-day window to apply.

Interested renters are now being directed to the HA Portal to register for an account and submit their applications. Applications will only be accepted online.