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SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time since 2015, those seeking federal assistance for housing in Salt Lake County can apply for the federal Housing Choice Voucher program’s waiting list, officials announced Tuesday.
Officials for both Housing Connect, which was formerly known as the Housing Authority of the County of Salt Lake, and the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City, began accepting waiting list applications Tuesday morning. It’s the first time the two agencies have combined efforts for the waiting list, according to Zach Bale, chief program officer for Housing Connect.
The announcement comes as the number of those already on the waiting list shrunk significantly; it had reached more than 14,000 by the time the two agencies closed their waiting list. Housing Connect’s waiting list closed in 2014 and the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City closed the following year because the wait was too long.
“Most of the families that have been on our waitlist have waited that long, six to seven years,” Bale said. “We closed it because the wait grew to that large. We anticipated that it would be a many-year wait and, as an agency, determined that it was better to close it at that time and work through the existing list of individuals that needed assistance.”
Bale explained that people applying must be at 30% of the area median income to qualify for the program. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which runs the federal program, the maximum income to qualify in Salt Lake is $28,950 for an individual, $41,350 for a family of four, and $54,600 for a family of eight.
The program also helps those who are elderly or dealing with disabilities to “afford decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private housing market,” according to the agency’s website. People seeking to enter the waiting list can apply online.
The Housing Authority of Salt Lake City currently owns 30 properties and more than 1,600 units in the city and provides affordable housing for more than 9,000 residents across the county. It also has control over more than 2,800 Housing Choice, or Section 8, vouchers. Housing Connect owns more than 1,200 units in the county and helps 3,900 households with rental assistance, according to numbers released by the two agencies.
Tuesday’s announcement also comes as the concern for more affordable housing in Salt Lake County, and elsewhere in Utah, has become an increasingly hot-button issue. It’s a topic that was constantly brought up during the 2019 Salt Lake City mayoral race and there’s also a bill seeking $35 million in funding for affordable housing in the state that will be brought up during the 2020 legislative session that begins next week.
We’ve seen a substantial cost-of-living increase in and all along the Wasatch Front, certainly within Salt Lake County. ... And as a result, there are many more families that are cost-burdened.
–Zach Bale, chief program officer for Housing Connect
With costs rising, the number of people reaching out to the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City and Housing Connect for help has grown, Bale said. They’ve seen an increase in the number of Utah families who are what the Department of Housing and Urban Development calls “cost-burdened” each year. Those are individuals or families who pay 30% or more of their income toward the cost of housing.
“We’ve seen a substantial cost-of-living increase in and all along the Wasatch Front, certainly within Salt Lake County. Both the cost to own and then, in our case, the cost to rent has gone up substantially. We’ve seen, in general, increases of 10% per year have been a bit more of the norm than rare,” Bale said. “And as a result, there are many more families that are cost-burdened.”
That’s concerning, he said, because it means families are left with making difficult money choices between rent, having an adequate food supply, or even medical costs. Receiving housing assistance would help those families better afford housing in the county and not worry as much about sacrificing other important needs.
There is currently no estimated time for if or when the waiting list will close again due to another long wait time. Bale is optimistic that the county and city housing agencies combining forces will help speed up the process, as well.
“As we move through the list; we hope that the flow coordinating between our agencies will move a bit quicker,” he said. “The other ability that we haven't had is some new features of the online system that will allow households to stay in touch. So, both provide us recent addresses to maintain their application and any details that may change their household size.”
He also hopes people will come off the list because they will finally make enough to no longer need assistance, which would free up space for others who may be in dire need of help. People who apply now but no longer need assistance down the road are not penalized for dropping off the list, Bale added.
Anyone seeking assistance can call Housing Connect at 801-284-4400 or the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City at 801-487-2161.