Section 8 Vouchers Fail Sacramento’s Unhoused: A Desperate Wait for Housing

October 12, 2023, 3:24 PM

SACRAMENTO, CA – The tragic story of Tammy Myler and Kristi Phillips, both trapped in an agonizing limbo for years while awaiting Section 8 housing vouchers in Sacramento, reflects a deeply flawed system that is failing thousands of unhoused individuals in the city.

Tammy Myler, 55, wipes away tears inside her camping trailer in North Sacramento’s Camp Resolution as she speaks about her 14-year wait for housing. She is one of 51,000 Sacramentans on a waiting list for just 13,000 Section 8 housing vouchers. Myler’s experience is one of heartbreaking frustration, as she has held a voucher for several years but still hasn’t found a landlord willing to accept it. She now resides in a city-supplied trailer without air conditioning, toiling at a 7-Eleven while her future remains uncertain.

Kristi Phillips has faced a prolonged struggle for a Section 8 housing voucher. She initially applied when she was pregnant with her 14-year-old son, Ty. Her family, including two young daughters, has been continuously moving between hotel rooms, vehicles, and most recently, a friend’s apartment. A recent eviction notice has left her family in a precarious situation, highlighting the challenges of affording housing.

The Section 8 voucher program, designed to combat homelessness, has been riddled with issues. Federal funding for additional vouchers in Sacramento has remained static, despite a quadrupling of the unhoused population in the last two decades. The wait for these vouchers often spans several years, with further delays as voucher holders must find landlords willing to accept their vouchers. Landlords complain that the program’s process leaves them waiting for months to receive payments, casting doubts on its effectiveness.

The struggles don’t end there, as some landlords still discriminate against voucher holders despite it being illegal. Landlords frequently cite various reasons, from credit scores to unfounded concerns about property damage. This discrimination further perpetuates homelessness.

Sacramento’s Section 8 program is in crisis, with an increasing number of people on the waiting list, even with vouchers. Incentives to landlords, like one-time bonuses, are no longer available, worsening the situation. Congress has shown little interest in increasing the number of vouchers, leading to stagnant funding for years. Local housing authorities, including the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, are struggling to address the issue due to limited resources and financial support. This systemic failure extends beyond the local level, with federal support for new vouchers remaining largely unchanged since 2002.

In this bleak environment, the Section 8 lottery system appears inherently unfair to those like Kristi Phillips who have been waiting for years without any sign of relief. It is a cruel irony that those in the direst need may not get a chance simply because of a flawed selection process.

Many individuals, including Tammy Myler and Kristi Phillips, are on the verge of homelessness, emphasizing the urgent need for action. The Section 8 voucher program has fallen short of its potential as a solution, as homelessness remains a critical issue in Sacramento. Addressing this crisis requires a comprehensive and compassionate approach to prevent people from living in a state of “false hope.”

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