Uncovering the Oversight Gap: San Diego Housing Commission Faces Criticism Over Unchecked Section 8 Rent Increases

November 9, 2023
In a recent inewsource investigation, alarming revelations have surfaced regarding the San Diego Housing Commission’s handling of rent increases for low-income tenants in the federal Section 8 housing program. The Housing Commission, allocated around $300 million in federal funds annually to aid low-income tenants in affording private market rents, is facing scrutiny due to deficiencies in its oversight and approval procedures.
The investigation discovered that, despite fielding over 10,000 applications to increase rents on Section 8 tenants in the last year, the Housing Commission has no mechanism to ensure these increases comply with California’s Tenant Protection Act, which caps rent increases for many properties at 10% in San Diego.
The agency’s reliance on landlords’ self-reporting has led to a significant gap in oversight. In a sample analysis of one week’s rent increase applications approved in December, inewsource found that over 20% of the approved rent hikes exceeded the state’s cap, with some increases reaching as high as 53%.
The lack of scrutiny is concerning, especially given the critical role Section 8 housing vouchers play in supporting low-income residents. Unfortunately, the demand for these Section 8 vouchers far exceeds availability, with eligible individuals facing up to a 15-year waitlist.
Amid a worsening housing and homelessness crisis, San Diego has experienced a significant 15% increase in rents over a year, consolidating its status as the most expensive place to live in the country. Compounding the difficulties for low-income families, less than 1% of the city’s rental housing is currently vacant.
Critics, including the state attorney general, argue that the Housing Commission’s failure to enforce Section 8 rent increase regulations means taxpayers are potentially subsidizing excessive and illegal rent hikes. Attorneys representing tenants have highlighted cases where individuals and families have been forced to pay unlawful Section 8 rent increases.
The Housing Commission, in response to the investigation, expressed its commitment to implementing the state’s Section 8 rent cap. The agency is actively seeking guidance from other housing agencies and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in this endeavor.However, the lack of concrete guidance from HUD has prompted the Housing Commission to develop its own plans to enforce the California Tenant Protection Act for Section 8 housing.
Despite the acknowledgment of the issue, the Housing Commission did not comment on a recently filed lawsuit by Black Men and Women United San Diego. The lawsuit aims to halt the Housing Commission’s practice of approving and subsidizing illegal Section 8 rent increases and seeks the recovery of public funds used for such increases.
The investigation has shed light on a broader problem, with some housing agencies across the state adopting the position that Section 8 tenants are not protected under rent caps. Critics assert that the absence of enforcement is leading to a reduction in the number of individuals benefiting from the Section 8 voucher program, thereby contributing to a rise in homelessness. As the Section 8 housing situation evolves, there is a mounting demand for heightened oversight and accountability to ensure the program achieves its intended goal of offering secure and stable housing for low-income families. The unresolved issues in San Diego underscore the need for a comprehensive and standardized approach to enforcing Section 8 rent increase regulations to protect vulnerable communities.

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