WBEZ Public Radio: Most housing voucher waiting lists in Illinois closed

By Natalie Moore

For Illinois families that need affordable housing, just getting on the waiting list is increasingly difficult.

According to a new report by Housing Action Illinois and Heartland Alliance, 72 percent of waiting lists for subsidized housing vouchers in Illinois are closed. Those public housing authorities with closed wait lists administer 95 percent of the vouchers available in the state.

“This means that people who need affordable housing to avoid being homeless can’t even get in line and this signals that we need more resources,” said Bob Palmer, policy director for Housing Action Illinois.

The places where wait lists are open are in rural areas with a small number of slots. There’s also a huge gap between the number of housing vouchers used by low-income families and those who need it.

Nearly 82,000 households in Illinois use housing vouchers, commonly known as Section 8, but advocates say there’s a deficit of 321,394 affordable rental units in the state.

Palmer wants Congress to lift a cap on the number of vouchers funded nationally. Federal budget sequester spending caps in 2011 had a big impact on the 2013 budget for vouchers. There are 67,000 vouchers nationally that could be restored and about four to five percent of those could come to Illinois.

The Chicago Housing Authority administers the most vouchers in the state but is authorized to administer nearly 51,000, according to the report. CHA has come under pressure and has begun releasing more. Currently, the public housing agency provides 44,000 and officials said by next year the number will increase to 46,000.

In a statement, CHA said: “We appreciate Heartland Alliance’s hope that Congress will expand the number of vouchers, but we are not counting on that alone to meet the need.” CHA said new city affordable housing requirements and the increase in the minimum wage “will help both decrease and meet the need.”

Using a voucher isn’t always easy for families. Last month WBEZ found widespread voucher discrimination in Chicago Craigslist ads. On average four to five postings a day during the month of June told voucher holders not to bother applying, which is illegal in the city.

Read the full report here.