Need a low-cost home? Deadline to apply for public housing voucher program is June 20

Cedar Heights, a 14-unit affordable apartment complex near the Fresno Fairgrounds, accepts renters with housing choice vouchers.
Cedar Heights, a 14-unit affordable apartment complex near the Fresno Fairgrounds, accepts renters with housing choice vouchers. Fresno Bee file

Nearly 3,500 people applied Tuesday during the first day of the Fresno Housing Authority’s pre-application period for the Housing Choice Voucher program, also known as Section 8.

Brandi Johnson, Fresno Housing Authority communications director, said the high volume of users overwhelmed the website Tuesday. She said there is no need for applicants to rush to apply because the deadline isn’t until midnight June 20.

Johnson said applicants who apply before the deadline will be entered into a lottery system for a housing voucher. She added that the housing authority used to operate on a first-come, first-served basis, but that process is no longer used. The lottery system for a home voucher will only apply to residents who apply within the next two weeks. Johnson said applicant information from prior years no longer exists because the organization upgraded its data system.

Monica Garcia, 28, plans to apply for a housing voucher this year. She is expecting a baby in November and hopes to get into the program to find a bigger home. A final draw for the voucher lottery is expected to be in December 2017.

“My apartment is very small (and) having a baby is going to be tight,” she said. “I need something bigger.”

The housing authority administers about 13,000 rental assistance vouchers. The purpose of a home voucher is to provide eligible low-income families the chance to rent affordable housing.

Garcia said her rent and bills each month total $1,200 – about twice as much as she earns, so she’s often late on paying her bills.

“I never really wanted to apply for Section 8,” Garcia said. “But right now, I’m pregnant and my income is not where I want it to be.”

Garcia, who is 3 1/2 months pregnant, works as a bartender at Chukchansi Park. She also helps her father with bookkeeping and cleans business offices.

She hopes the voucher program can help her find a home that she can afford and where she can care for her newborn, at least for a year. She also wants to find a full-time job in the meantime. In a few weeks, she will attend Brightwood College to train for work as a dental assistant, which could take her about a year to complete.

She said her boyfriend, a full-time student, plans to work part-time if they are able to get a home voucher.

The pre-application process has become much easier for residents to use since the housing authority updated its online services about two years ago. Residents can now apply from a phone or a computer, and anywhere with an internet connection. Johnson said that may be why so many people applied Tuesday. The application will ask questions such as name, estimated yearly income, household size and Social Security number. Applicants must have a valid email address to apply.

The Fresno Housing Authority has partnered with sites that provide computer access throughout Fresno County, including county libraries. A full list of sites can be found on the authority’s website.

Preston Prince, executive director, said the housing authority will often select more applications for the lottery than there are vouchers available because some applicants might not meet requirements and their applications would be revoked. Not everyone who applies for a housing voucher is selected, Prince said. “It’s really lucky to get a voucher.”

Those who are selected from the lottery system will be contacted and asked to bring documents to prove their information still meets eligibility.

The housing authority is warning applicants to be aware of online scams that may try to charge fees for filling out the application. Johnson said the housing authority’s pre-application is free of charge for the public and can only be found on the authority’s website. She said online scams may ask for personal information from vulnerable applicants that could lead to identity theft.

Data collected during application periods is also used by the housing authority to inform elected officials about housing needs, Prince said.

Housing authority statistics indicate that about 41,251 more affordable rental homes are needed now in Fresno County. A study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in 2015 found that cuts in federal and state funding have reduced investment in affordable housing by 58 percent since 2008.

The same study also found that while rent in Fresno County has increased by 22 percent since 2000, median household income for renters has gone down by 8 percent.

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado: 559-441-6304, @cres_guez