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How vouchers can help solve the housing crisis

Mark Parker

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Former Sen. Jeff Brandes founded the Florida Policy Project to provide state and local decisionmakers with best practices and policy insights. Photo by Mark Parker.

The average monthly rent for an 872-square-foot apartment in St. Petersburg is nearly $2,000, and city officials continue subsidizing new developments to mitigate soaring living costs.

While the project is unique, the total public subsidy for each of Deuces Rising’s 24 townhomes is about $800,000. A new report highlights the benefits of handing some of that money directly to low-income families.

The Florida Policy Project released its “Unlocking Potential by Elevating Housing Vouchers” study Wednesday. Former St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes founded the think tank after leaving office.

“It (the report) basically says we should move money from helping developers to helping people get into market-rate housing, via a voucher program,” Brandes told the Catalyst. “And we lay out why the programs don’t work today, what we could do to improve the programs and why the state needs to show leadership and drive vouchers as a responsible way to house people.”

Problems

The St. Pete-based Florida Policy Project enlisted the help of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University to conduct the study’s research. It begins by noting that the state receives 1,000 new residents daily, and median housing prices increased by nearly $150,000 through the pandemic.

The DeVoe Center estimates that Florida agencies allocate Housing Choice Vouchers to just 4.6% of eligible residents. Pinellas County enjoys the highest rate in the state, at less than 10%.

However, even a 70% allocation rate would cause an $820.7 million funding gap. Part of the problem is a lack of centralized authority, as dozens of agencies issue housing vouchers. “St. Pete really doesn’t have a voucher program at all – through the city,” Brandes said.

Families able to secure the funding pay 30% of their income towards rent and utilities, with vouchers covering the remainder. They must first languish on a waitlist. Miami residents must wait up to 14 years and the national average is 25 months.

Brandes noted that affordable housing construction also takes years to complete. “And what happens to the people who don’t get into those units?” he added. “They’re sleeping in their cars, they’re in shelters or they’re in motels.”

Benefits

New affordable housing developments are nothing like the “projects” that sprung up in cities throughout the mid-20th century. However, many are often in low-income areas where land is relatively affordable – and available.

From left: St. Petersburg City Councilmember Copley Gerdes; City Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders; County Commissioner Renee Flowers; Scott MacDonald, CFO of Blue Sky Communities; Mayor Ken Welch; and County Commissioner Charlie Justice at a March 6 groundbreaking ceremony for the Skyway Lofts II affordable housing development. Photo by Mark Parker.

Housing vouchers allow recipients to choose where they want to live. “They can move to areas with better schools, they can get closer to their jobs,” Brandes said. “It solves transportation issues they may have.

“When you allow more flexibility in housing, they aren’t trapped in pockets of poverty where everybody in the entire apartment complex … is basically, struggling.”

The report highlights how vouchers give recipients more control over their housing. They can identify and approach property owners and landlords leasing units where they want to – or currently – live and maintain established social networks.

Solutions

Program success is largely dependent on revamping an underfunded, disorganized and inefficient system. The report highlights several best practices and policy recommendations to mitigate those issues.

The study, and Brandes, stressed that vouchers help mitigate housing demand. State and local governments must also continue addressing supply.

While funding is an ongoing challenge, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released an additional $113 million for vouchers in August 2023. Florida has utilized under $800,000, while Texas and California have allocated over $34 million.

The report recommends establishing and expanding locally operated voucher programs. “I think people are hesitant to do it because most cities don’t feel like they get credit unless they build something,” Brandes said.

“Politically, it’s a different argument, although radically more people got housed with 5,000 housing vouchers than 500 rental units that took three years to build.”

The study also urges housing authorities to increase transparency. That includes posting clear selection criteria, implementing an accurate timeline and providing a “likelihood of funding metric” for applicants.

In Florida, the average wait time is 41 months. The report stresses the need to improve efficiency and offer timely status updates and rejection notices so applicants can continue their search for housing solutions.

Brandes noted that landlords inherently prefer renting to someone with a higher credit score. He said housing authorities, or third parties, could guarantee payment through a voucher program.

The report highlights the need for programs to rely on Small Area Fair Market Rent values to calculate voucher amounts, rather than countywide Fari Market Rents. It cited a 2023 study showing Florida has the nation’s widest gap between soaring prices and tenant assistance.

“There’s no panacea – there’s no one-size-fits-all approach,” Brandes said. “You need multiple strategies, and cities need to implement multiple strategies.”

Many market-rate developers are hesitant to accept vouchers. Brandes said that is due to the number of different programs, and concerns over timely payments and the eviction process.

He said local agencies and officials must mitigate those risks and offer incentives. “The state’s never going to force people to take them (vouchers),” Brandes added. “It’s important that cities have these conversations … because without market-rate developers, you effectively don’t have a voucher program.”

National, state and local experts will discuss the report’s findings, and myriad other best practices, at the Florida Housing Summit: Blueprint for Better Outcomes event May 1 on the USF St. Petersburg campus. For more information, visit the website here.

 

 

 

 

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    J Sanchez

    April 15, 2024at3:47 pm

    Producing more vouchers is doing more harm than good.
    1. Many landlords in “good neighborhoods” with “good schools” etc are going PRIVATE MARKET because SECTION 8 is not keeping their participants accountable. There’s no reason why a resident can ADMIT that they damaged something in the home. However, the inspectors still force the landlord to come out of pocket or there are threats of not being paid and giving the negligent tenant a new voucher to go screw up another landlord’s property.

    2. The 30% of their income is a big fat LIE because a tenant’s portion will be the majority of their check and housing just tells them “Oh ask your landlord to lower the rent then”

    3. A lot of people are having issues finding housing because they have CRIMINAL AND MULTIPLE EVICTION FILINGS ON THEIR RECORD. It’s not always just 1. The average is about 3.

    I can go on but they gotta fix the operation practices of section 8 before they start handing out more vouchers willy nilly.

  2. Avatar

    Mike

    April 14, 2024at10:24 pm

    Moe having “an arrest record, eviction or being single with 5 kids” is not average. It should surprise exactly no one that people who make horrible choices end up with horrible outcomes. People with arrest records, evictions and FIVE children are NOT victims. Nor are functioning members of society villains. We are not here to be penalized for following the rules. If you want low rent, move to a market with low expectations. Bye. Take your victimization complex with you.

  3. Avatar

    Moe

    April 14, 2024at9:01 pm

    Vouchers wont solve the housing problem. Landlords dont have to accept housing vouchers. Many wont accept them if the potential tenant has an arrest record, an eviction or is a single parent with 5 kids. Rent is out of control for even the average citizen or couple with regular jobs and no arrest record. It shouldnt cost more than your net pay for 1 check to rent an average place. My little 250 sq ft studio is crazy $1200/month. This is not New York City or CA. If you want regular people to live where you work increase pay and decrease rent. Otherwise, all you will be having are the voucher families and the rich. I dont plan to retire in FL. Cant afford to with sky high rent and increased insurance.

  4. Avatar

    Frank M.

    April 14, 2024at7:14 am

    We are in the same space as people in the 1920’s and we need the same solution. Hopefully without as much violence. But we need massive strikes to raise the minimum wage to a reasonable amount. Like $30 an hour so people can live.
    Before any naysayers say if we do that prices will rise. Hey genius, they rise anyway! That is how we got where we are. The rich paid off congress to lower their taxes and keep the minimum wage low so they can amass wealth under the lie of trickle down. It’s a lie to placate people. You have to wipe off the cobwebs and see what is really going on. Not what they tell you.

  5. Avatar

    Ron Ogden

    April 14, 2024at3:48 am

    This shows how complicated and intractable the problem is. It you subsidize market rate housing with a voucher you encourage people to take up housing they can’t afford. This forces more qualified buyers to have to look up market until they get to a point where they need vouchers, and it raises the cost of the vouchers so high that it takes money out of the private sector, where it could have been used to build housing. You can paper over this conundrum by taking the money out of a big, distant federal pot, but ultimately it all comes from the same economy.

  6. Avatar

    JAMES R. GILLESPIE

    April 13, 2024at4:45 pm

    BRANDES IS RIGHT ABOUT MULTIPLE OPTIONS AS WELL AS EXISTING PROGRAMS. SPEEDING UP THE HOUSING OF PEOPLE IS A KEY. NEED ONE PAOINT OUT THE EXTRAVAGENCE OF *800K FOR ONE HOUSE. IT IS WASTEFUL AND AWFUL POLICY. ST PETE MUST REFORM IT USING THE MAYOR AND COUNCIL OR THEY MAKE BAD POLICY AND INVESTMENTS.

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