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[whitespace] Caught Behind the 8 Ball

Local rental market a jungle for low-income tenants

MIMI YOUNG sounds beyond desperate on the phone. She and her partner, both disabled, qualify for federal rental subsidies known as Section 8 vouchers. But her Rohnert Park landlord is evicting them, and after almost three months of searching, she has not found anywhere to live.

Two more days and Young will be out on the street, she says, her voice strained and tense. One of her neighbors--a mother with a young daughter--also is facing eviction.

"The pool of landlords accepting Section 8 vouchers, it's drying up," she says. "We have been on the waiting list to get into a family support shelter for about a month. The last time we talked to the shelter people, they said no one is moving out."

Sonoma County Housing Authority Director Janie Walsh agrees that the situation is grim. When the Housing Authority opened its subsidized housing waiting list in March, 5,020 families signed up in six weeks. Since then, only 600 households have been placed.

To qualify for a Section 8 housing voucher, a family of four can make no more than $55,900 a year. But the bulk of the families served by the county's subsidized rent program are in the very-low-income category, making less than $27,950.

In the 1960s, Walsh says, federal loan programs required landlords to make a 20-year commitment to participate in the subsidized housing program. The 20 years is up, and many landlords are opting out, even though the Housing Authority pays a majority of the rent for a Section 8 tenant on the first of the month.

Escalating rents make it tougher for low-income tenants to come up with their share each month, and landlords don't want to bother with additional paperwork, especially with a ready supply of would-be renters willing to pay above-market rates.

"It is very difficult. We are issuing more vouchers, and it takes tenants a longer time to find housing," Walsh says. "When there was a higher vacancy rate, tenants could find a place within two weeks. Now it may take three months, and they still may not be able to find a place."

That seems to be the case for Young and her partner, who left no forwarding phone or way to get in contact.

"We're basically planning on living in our car," she says.

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From the January 27-February 2, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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