When I received a Section 8 housing voucher, I was really scared to move out of my home community in Poway — there aren’t many landlords who accept housing vouchers in this area. In Poway, my daughter can go to great schools, and the everyday necessities I need are close by, which was important when I was looking for a unit since I didn’t drive at the time. I was nervous that to use my voucher, my daughter and I would have to move to a less safe area with lower-performing schools.
Poway is the first place where I have been able to put down roots, and I like the community here. It was a tremendous relief when Community HousingWorks, an affordable housing developer and operator, accepted my voucher, and we were able to stay in our home.
Things were very different for my daughter’s father — he was on the Section 8 waitlist for about eight years. When he and his family finally got their voucher, they wanted to move to Poway to be closer to our daughter, and to be near the schools; we wanted all of the siblings to be in the same district.
To my dismay, they were unable to find a landlord in Poway who would accept their voucher. In fact, many of the landlords they contacted wished them luck even finding someone who would accept their application.
After three months of searching, and with time extensions running out, they finally found a place in Spring Valley, which is very far from us. Since it’s so far away, my daughter only sees her dad and siblings once a month.
Even though it’s hard to co-parent so far apart, I still feel like we were fortunate compared with other families who use vouchers to afford the high cost of rent. I was luckier than my daughter’s father, but we both found places where we can use our vouchers, which is not the experience of everyone who applies with one.
More than 300,000 California families receive housing vouchers, and although we hear about California’s housing crisis every day, many of those vouchers go unused because landlords won’t consider applicants with them. At a time when so many are in desperate need of housing, it’s not right that people can’t use their vouchers to find a home.
There is currently a bill moving through the state Legislature, SB 329, that would require landlords to accept applications from voucher holders. The bill won’t change what landlords can charge for rent, or what criteria they use to screen tenants; it would simply require landlords to treat applicants with vouchers the same way they treat applicants with other sources of income.
At least 11 other states, as well as some California cities, including San Diego, have successfully implemented these kinds of policies, so it makes sense for California to make it state law. According to a recent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development study, when protections like those in SB 329 are in place, families with housing assistance are less likely to be rejected by landlords during the application process. Studies also show that these laws help reduce neighborhood poverty rates, which increases opportunities for children and families.
In a time when housing is so scarce, requiring landlords to consider a voucher holder’s rental application would go a long way. Last September, the average rent in San Diego County reached $1,960 a month — an all-time high, and prices are even higher in cities across the state. Those costs are simply unaffordable for a growing number of California families.
With so many people in our region and our state struggling to make ends meet, the last thing people need is to be discriminated against when they use a housing voucher to help pay the high cost of rent. We need to help level the playing field and keep families in homes where they can thrive.
Maria Hernandez is a resident of Poway and a member of Residents United Network, which promotes civic engagement among people historically excluded from policy decisions.