Fairfax County will accept applicants for its Housing Choice Voucher Program for the first time in more than 10 years, the county announced Jan. 16.

Formerly known as Section 8, the Housing Choice Voucher Program is a federal program administered by the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority that provides rental assistance to low-income families seeking housing on the private market.

Fairfax County will open the Housing Choice Voucher waitlist for the first time since 2007 on Tuesday at 8:00 p.m., and applications for the list will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 4.

The waitlist consists of about 2,000 slots that will go to applying households selected randomly by a computer-based lottery system, so all applicants will have an equal chance of getting on the list regardless of when they submit their application within the given timeframe.

Applications must be submitted online, but a list of locations where Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development staff will be present to provide assistance if necessary can be found on at fairfaxcounty.gov/housing/help-hcv-waitlist.

“There is a tremendous need for affordable housing here in Fairfax County,” Redevelopment and Housing Authority Chairman Robert Schwaninger said. “Reopening the Housing Choice Voucher waitlist will give families with children, seniors, and persons with disabilities an opportunity to get much needed housing assistance.”

While Fairfax is one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S., it also has a high cost of living that has outpaced wage growth for many.

A Communitywide Housing Strategic Plan published by Fairfax County in June 2018 found that, even with an area median income of $110,300 for a household of four, one in five renters in the county devote more than 50 percent of their income to housing.

The need for price-appropriate housing, meaning housing that costs 30 percent or less of a household’s annual gross income, is expected to stay strong in the future.

Fairfax County will need 62,184 new housing units in the next 15 years, including over 18,000 units for households earning less than 80 percent of the area median income, according to the strategic plan, which recommends immediate and long-term strategies for creating affordable housing.

When Fairfax County closed the Housing Choice Voucher waitlist in 2007, the program had approximately 10,000 applicants on the list, according to Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development public affairs director Ashley Montgomery.

The need for housing assistance has not decreased in the intervening decade.

In addition to the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority operates 1,060 public housing units under the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration Project, which primarily serves households that earn up to 50 percent of the area median income.

Fairfax County opened the RAD program waitlist in July 2018 and received more than 13,000 applications for 2,000 available slots before it closed on July 23, 2018.

The county is reopening the Housing Choice Voucher waitlist this year after finally working through the backlog left over from 2007, but this time, the list will be limited to 2,000 slots like the RAD program.

“Our previous waitlist opening, we had a large amount of applicants, and it really just was not realistic to work through the list in a timely fashion,” Montgomery said. “We felt like with this, we have a more realistic goal of addressing the needs of families in Fairfax County.”

The Housing Choice Voucher Program provides financial assistance to low-income families looking to rent an apartment, condominium, townhouse, or single-family home on the private market.

Participants contribute about 30 to 35 percent of their adjusted income toward rent, which they pay directly to their landlord, while the Redevelopment and Housing Authority establishes an agreement with the landlord to cover the remaining balance.

Anyone can apply to get on the waitlist, but Montgomery recommends that only one person who might be considered the head of the household apply for each family, since the lottery system will eliminate any duplicate addresses.

In order to register for the waitlist, applicants will also need to provide a working email address, their name, date of birth, a current mailing address, the Social Security numbers for all members of their households, and information about their total annual household income, which refers to any money or resources coming from an outside source, including Social Security, retirement or pension payments, unemployment benefits, and child support as well as wages.

Though the applicants who receive the 2,000 waitlist slots are chosen at random, the Department of Housing and Community Development then uses a screening process to determine whether the households would actually be eligible to receive a housing choice voucher.

To qualify for the program, a family’s total income must not exceed 50 percent of the area median income, and at least one member of the household must be a U.S. citizen or national, or have eligible immigration status.

All household members must provide a complete and accurate social security number, except for individuals who do not have eligible immigration status.

Individuals who have been convicted of producing or manufacturing methamphetamine or any crime that requires them to be registered as a lifetime sex offender are not eligible for the Housing Choice Voucher program. Families can also be denied assistance if any household member is or has been involved in certain kinds of criminal activities, including drug-related and violent acts, within the past three years.

While the program itself has additional requirements, anyone who is in need should apply for the waitlist, Montgomery says, though she cautions that it is only the first step in a longer process.

Applying to be placed on the waitlist is free and does not require credit card information.

“If they’re told otherwise, it’s not a county site or not through us. It’s completely free to apply,” Montgomery said.

Once a household is placed on the waitlist, county staff will notify them and request additional documentation to support the information they provided in their application and determine if they are eligible for the housing choice program.

Only when an applicant has been officially accepted into the program off the waitlist can they start looking for a home and working with the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

The Department of Housing and Community Development hopes to get through the 2,000-slot waitlist for the Housing Choice Voucher Program within two to three years, but the length of time it takes for the department to get through the waitlist varies depending on the availability of funding, voucher turnover, and other factors.

A lack of funding could potentially become an issue for the voucher program if the ongoing federal government shutdown continues.

Prompted by Congress’s failure to pass appropriations bills to fund government departments and agencies including HUD by Dec. 22, the shutdown reached 35 days on Friday and is the longest partial closure of the federal government in U.S. history.

“We have enough reserves of federal funds for us to get through a couple of months,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said. “But if this shutdown goes on into March, for instance, we’re going to need to take a look at how do we make up for those funds and make sure people continue to have a roof over their heads. Those are the kinds of programs we’re concerned about.”

Montgomery says the federal shutdown will not affect the county’s plans to open the Housing Choice Voucher waitlist on Jan. 29, since the move is necessary to restore the program’s applicant pool, which has almost been exhausted.

HUD has also confirmed to Fairfax County that it will continue making payments for the Housing Choice Voucher and Rental Assistance Demonstration programs in February.

“Housing Choice Voucher landlords can count on their February payments as normal,” Montgomery said. “Contingency planning is already underway in Fairfax County should the shutdown stretch into March.”

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