Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday November 4th, 2015, 12:48pm

Report: Most Waitlists For Housing Choice Vouchers Closed In Illinois

As demand for federal housing vouchers intensifies in Illinois, residents in need of affordable rental housing are encountering mostly closed waitlists for the Housing Choice Voucher program across the state, a new report shows.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development operates the Housing Choice Voucher program, which provides rental assistance to low-income families and is administered locally by public housing authorities (PHAs).

Of the 71 PHAs with active Housing Choice Voucher programs in Illinois, 51, or 72 percent, have closed voucher waitlists, according to the report from Housing Action Illinois and the Social IMPACT Research Center.

"This means that people in need of affordable rental housing in most every part of Illinois do not have the opportunity to even get in line to secure a federally-funded subsidy that would alleviate their poverty and put their household in a better position to thrive," the report authors wrote.

"Closed waiting lists for Housing Choice Vouchers aren't a new phenomenon," they add, "but the last time this information was collected in 2007, the number of PHAs with closed voucher waiting lists was significantly lower -- 'only' 56 percent of all PHAs with a voucher program."

Housing Choice Vouchers are the most common form of federal rental aid nationwide. In Illinois, nearly 81,800 low-income families used such assistance as of December 2014. 

But only a quarter of low-income U.S. families eligible for federal rental assistance are actually receiving it. Federal rental assistance simply hasn't kept up with the growing number of families struggling to afford rent since the Great Recession.

For their report, the groups surveyed Illinois-based PHAs about their voucher waiting list status between August and October of 2015.

The 51 PHAs in Illinois with closed voucher waitlists administer 95 percent, or 77,321, of the available housing vouchers in the state. They are located in cities such as Bloomington, Chicago and Elgin and the counties of Boone, Champaign, Cook, DuPage, Jackson, Logan and Rock Island, to name a few.

Open waitlists for Housing Choice Vouchers are found only in the Illinois counties of Clark, Edgar, Fulton, Henry, Jersey, Knox, Lee, Marion, Mason, Morgan, Ogle, Randolph, Richland, Saline, Shelby, St. Clair, Warren, Wayne and Woodford as well as the city of North Chicago. PHAs in these 20 communities administer 4,453 housing vouchers.

Rising poverty rates in the state and a changing housing market are at least two factors behind the increase in closed voucher waitlists in Illinois, according to the report.

From 2007 to 2014, the poverty rate in Illinois rose from 11.9 percent to 14.4 percent. Rental demand, meanwhile, has also been on the rise since since the Great Recession. As rental demand grows, vacancies decrease and rents increase.

"The demand for Housing Choice Vouchers is so far in excess of supply because rental housing costs in the private market are unaffordable to low-wage workers and low-income people with fixed incomes," the report explained.

Housing Action Illinois and the Social IMPACT Research Center list several budget-specific recommendations to improve voucher access. Among other recommendations, the groups want Congress to restore the 67,000 rental housing vouchers that were lost in 2013 after sequestration cuts.

President Barack Obama signed a two-year federal budget measure on Monday, and Congress now has to determine how much money federal agencies will receive as part of the appropriations process.

"To assist households whose need for affordable housing is not served by the private market, to help reduce the risk of homelessness, and to help lift thousands of households out of poverty, Congress should appropriate enough money to fund all current vouchers and restore vouchers that have been lost due to previous budget cuts," Bob Palmer, policy director for Housing Action Illinois, said in a statement.

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