'We need more of everything:' Subsidized housing wait lists are years long in Southern California (2024)

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- It's not unusual for someone to show off their car, but when Stephanie Cleaver shows off her car, she's also showing off her bedroom.

"I never, never in life thought that this was going to happen to me. I had everything. I had a nice family, nice husband, but it changed," said Cleaver, a retired property manager.

The soon-to-be 72-year-old said she's homeless when she's unable to crash with her son or daughter.

When her partner died years ago, Cleaver couldn't afford the rent and lost her apartment. Now, she gets roughly $1,200 a month from Social Security plus whatever she can make from recycling.

However, it's not enough.

In September 2015, she applied for government subsidized housing in the form of a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher in Redondo Beach.

Originally, she said she had more than 1,000 people ahead of her.

In more than seven years, she's moved up a few hundred spaces and is now around No. 700 on the waitlist.

"I'd get on anything just to get my own place that I can afford," she said.

Long wait times is a widespread problem

Redondo Beach Housing Authority officials declined a request for an interview, but told Eyewitness News in an email that the city's Section 8 waitlist has dropped from more than 4,000 families at the beginning of 2022 to just under 1,200 now.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - the federal agency in charge of public and subsidized housing - as of the end of 2022, Redondo Beach Housing Authority's average wait time was about two and a half years for the Housing Choice Voucher program, also known as Section 8 housing.

This is roughly in line with wait times in the area.

In the Los Angeles metro area (which includes Los Angeles and Orange counties), people wait on average more than two years on Section 8 waitlists, according to the most recent HUD data.

RELATED: LA's Section 8 housing program plagued by unused vouchers, landlord rejections

But it's not unique to Los Angeles.

The demand for public and subsidized housing is widespread.

In New York, people wait nearly four years. In Miami, it's three and a half years. In Chicago and Dallas, people wait roughly two years for a Section 8 voucher.

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Wait times can be even longer for government-owned public housing.

Section 8 housing is privately owned, but subsidized through vouchers. Public housing is owned and operated by local housing agencies.

In Los Angeles County, people wait for public housing for about five and a half years on average.

Even though the Section 8 voucher options might come with a faster wait time, two of the largest housing agencies in the area - the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Development Authority - have closed their Section 8 waitlists due to high demand.

"The fact that we have to open the waiting list is an indicator that it's really crazy, right?" said Michael Lens, an associate professor of urban planning and public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

"We just don't have the public housing stock, the voucher availability and other forms of HUD subsidized housing to meet that need, or anything close to it," Lens said.

More vouchers, more money, more housing

Lens said there is a big gap between the people housing agencies are able to serve and the need that is out there.

An Eyewitness News data analysis of Zillow data shows typical rents in L.A. and Orange counties have jumped 30% over the past five years.

About one in every four renters in Southern California are spending more than half of their income on rent, according to Census data.

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The solution, according to Lens, is "more of everything."

"We need more vouchers, we need more public private partnerships to provide kind of a mix of housing choices that are both public and private," he said.

More funding would help housing agencies house more people, said Tracie Mann, the chief of programs for the Los Angeles County Development Authority.

"An increase in funding would really be the answer to the question of increasing the availability of housing for those who are on the waiting list, and also preventing them from falling into homelessness, because we don't know the circ*mstances of those currently on the waiting list," Mann said.

More housing in general would also help, said Lens, but that isn't always an easy solution.

"The main thing that doesn't always come up when we talk about public housing or vouchers is the extreme difficulty of building housing of any kind," Lens said.

"That's kind of the foundation of ... trying to reverse this inexorable trend of increased rents, increased prices, increased housing costs and burden. We need to make it easier to build and make it make housing more plentiful, or we're not going to ever be able to subsidize our way out of it," Lens continued.

Despite all this, Cleaver remains optimistic.

"Every day, I check my mail and I keep hoping, 'This is it. This is it,'" she said. "In all my heart, I know that I'm going to have a home to live in."

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'We need more of everything:' Subsidized housing wait lists are years long in Southern California (2024)


How long is the waiting list for public housing in California? ›

The time from waiting list sign-up to being housed can take from a low of one year, to a high of 6-8 years. Vacancy rates in California are at an historic low.

Which state has the longest Section 8 waiting list? ›

In 2022, Hawaii had the longest waiting period among other states to obtain public housing accommodation in the United States. The average waiting period in Hawaii was 62 months, much higher than the national average of 19 months. California followed closely, with a waiting period of 55 months.

How long does it take to get the HUD housing in California? ›

It could take several weeks or months to process your application, verify your eligibility and issue you a Voucher for rental assistance. You can shorten the time it takes by promptly submitting all documentation requested by the Housing Authority and showing up at your appointments on time.

How can I get housing fast in California? ›

CDSS Housing and Homelessness Programs
  1. Project Roomkey/Housing and Homelessness COVID Response. ...
  2. CalWORKs Housing Support Program (HSP) ...
  3. CalWORKs Homeless Assistance (HA) ...
  4. Bringing Families Home Program (BFH) ...
  5. Housing and Disability Advocacy Program (HDAP) ...
  6. Home Safe Program.

How long is the Section 8 waitlist in San Diego? ›

It can take more than 10 years for your name to reach the top of the list. We will send a letter to you when your name has been selected. If you have not already done so, apply for housing assistance. Only fill out ONE application.

Does California have low-income housing for seniors? ›

Subsidized Housing: The state offers subsidized housing complexes specifically designed for low-income seniors. These complexes provide affordable rental units and often include supportive services tailored to the needs of older adults.

How do I get approved for low income housing in California? ›

A Public Housing Authority determines eligibility based on 1) annual gross income, 2) whether you qualify as elderly, a person with disabilities or as a family, and 3) U.S. citizenship or eligible immigration status. To apply, contact your local Public Housing Authority.

How long does it take to qualify for Section 8 in California? ›

You will need documentation including birth certificates, social security cards, proof of income, and bank statements for all members of your household. The application takes only moments to complete and an approval should be provided to you within 2 to 3 weeks provided all information needed has been collected.

How long do HUD loans take? ›

However, in most cases, it will take about 45-60 days after engaging with a lender for the application to be submitted to HUD. This is followed by another 60-90 day waiting period until HUD issues their commitment, and another 30-45 days to closing.

What is the easiest state to get housing help? ›

Key findings: Colorado ranked the top state in the nation for housing assistance from 2018 to 2019. Connecticut saw a 23.6% decline in homelessness from 2018 to 2019.

What is rapid rehousing California? ›

Rapid rehousing helps individuals and families to quickly exit homelessness by getting them housed. Rapid rehousing has three main components: Housing Identification, Rent and Move-In Assistance (Financial assistance) and Case Management and services.

How do I get emergency Section 8 in California? ›

The Emergency Housing Vouchers are administered through a direct referral process. Local Housing Authorities are working with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) to obtain referrals. If you think you are eligible for the program, please contact a Coordinated Entry System Access Center in your region.

What disqualifies from public housing in California? ›

Housing assistance programs are required to deny applicants who (1) have been evicted from public housing within the past 3 years for drug-related reasons, (2) are on the lifetime sex offender registry in any state, (3) have been convicted of manufacturing methamphetamines on public housing property, (4) are using ...

How do you qualify for public housing in California? ›

Eligibility: Public Housing is limited to low-income families and individuals. A Public Housing Authority determines eligibility based on 1) annual gross income, 2) whether you qualify as elderly, a person with disabilities or as a family, and 3) U.S. citizenship or eligible immigration status.

What is the most rent Section 8 will pay? ›

Fair Market Rents and Section 8 Landlords

In most cases, the local housing authority, funded by HUD, will pay about 70% of a tenant's rent, while the tenant will pay the other 30%. Fair Market Rents generally determine the maximum rent that a Section 8 landlord will be allowed to charge its residents.

How much is a two bedroom voucher in Riverside County? ›

Voucher Payment Standards
BedroomsPayment Standard
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