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Thousands waiting for housing vouchers in Phoenix

PHOENIX — For more than 20 years, Patricia Austin has been paying 30% of her income toward rent and a Section 8 housing voucher covers the rest.

“Out of all this time, it’s made sure I didn’t become homeless,” Austin said.

Austin is now getting help from just one of about 7,000 housing choice vouchers Phoenix receives.

“We have 16,000 individuals waiting in Phoenix for a housing voucher. Some have been waiting since 2016,” Phoenix Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari said.

Ansari is among Mayor Kate Gallego and council members Betty Guardado, Kesha Hodge-Washington, Laura Pastor Ann O’Brien and Debra Stark who signed letters urging Arizona’s Congressional delegation to fully fund the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget.

The letters ask for more funding for 50,000 new housing choice vouchers and to create a Section 8 voucher guarantee for youth aging out of foster care.

“This is something we need from our federal delegation,” Ansari said. “We’ve been taking significant action at the city level to address our housing and homelessness crisis. But what I have learned is we need support from the city, the state and the federal government to be able to tackle this from all angles.”

The letter also cites a 163,000-unit lack of housing in the City of Phoenix.

Currently, Philadelphia receives a little more than three times the number of housing choice vouchers than Phoenix does, according to HUD data. However, Phoenix is now a slightly larger city than Philadelphia.

That’s why the letters also call for changes to what Ansari, who’s also running to replace current U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., calls an “outdated” formula to allocate more vouchers to Phoenix.

“It favors older cities, East Coast cities, and not newer, faster-growing cities like the City of Phoenix,” Ansari said. “And so I think there it is imperative to look at what that model is, what that formula is, and look at cities here on the West Coast that are younger cities like the City of Phoenix, and look at the crises that we’re dealing with and support us accordingly.”

However, the debt ceiling agreement capped funding for federal spending programs affecting HUD’s budget.

“With the federal agreement, it’s not enough for the families that we work with here at (Unemployed Workers United) and for a lot of other countless folks that are still on waiting lists,” Carla Naranjo, Campaign Coordinator for Unemployed Worker United, said.

Naranjo said those trying to navigate Phoenix’s anywhere between three to five years,” Naranjo said. “And for folks who are working paycheck to paycheck at risk of eviction don’t necessarily have the luxury to be waiting multiple years to maybe be able to have their HUD housing be subsidized.”

The City of Phoenix recently banned landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their source of income, like vouchers.

Ansari also said the City of Phoenix offers landlords a stipend to accept housing choice vouchers. So far, 900 landlords have taken part of that program, Ansari said.

Still, Naranjo says more vouchers would be just a first step.

“If we can streamline the process, make it so more folks are eligible, there are more actual vouchers to hand out to folks – I think that’s a terrific start and a signal to where we can actually begin to reducing some of the harm that’s being done to these communities,” Naranjo said.

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