A look at housing subsidization in Washington
Taryn Zard, Staff Writer
Washington is a beautiful state, but it is also a very expensive place to live in. As the cost of living continues to increase statewide, residents look for places where the expenses are not as burdensome. One-way people are able to afford a place to live is by taking advantage of subsidized housing.
Subsidized housing comes about through the work of various corporations to lower the rates charged in certain areas. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released its revised income limits that determine the qualifications of who is allowed subsidized housing. For a family of four, the annual household income is required to be $72,000 or less, in order for them to qualify for subsidized housing.
For those living in Snohomish and King Counties to qualify for low income housing, they must make no more than 80 percent of the average income per household. Of that population, 50 percent are earning $48,000, which is considered low income, and 30 percent are earning $28,800 a year or less, which places them in the extremely low income household category.
Pierce County has a Section Eight Housing waitlist that has a random time frame assigned in which applicants can attempt to be added to the “lottery pool” for the housing choice voucher. There is an extensively high volume of applicants, which makes it almost impossible to even guarantee a spot on the waitlist. Within Thurston County, applicants are also placed on a waiting list, with a varying time frame of when people can apply. If an applicant is selected, they pay an average of 30 to 40 percent of their income to the Housing Authority of Thurston County, which then pays the remaining amount of cost directly to the landlord.
According to the director of the Housing Authority of Thurston County Rental Assistance, Karen McVea, “There are far more income eligible households than there are dollars to fund the needs. Thus, we accept applications and then use a lottery system to place names on the waiting lists.” The Housing Authority of Thurston County serves approximately 2,000 households and rental subsidies within the Thurston County area. Section Eight Housing used to be called the Housing Choice Voucher program, and is a federally funded housing assistance program intended for low-income and extremely low-income families, alongside the elderly and disabled. The program was designed to alleviate the stress of paying for costly housing, while also providing safe housing for individuals who cannot afford other places.
In September 2019, Microsoft loaned $60 million to King County Housing Authority at lower interest rates to buy five residential apartment complexes located in Kirkland, Bellevue, and Federal Way. The complexes will help maintain 1,029 affordable units in the long-term and help save renters over $450 million for the next 30 years.
Habitat for Humanity is a well-known volunteer organization that helps provide low-income housing. The organization works with volunteers and a small team to construct neighborhoods that have smaller houses that make the most of the inside. The layout of the houses makes the most of space while also keeping in mind that a smaller household lowers heating and electrical bills. After a family obtains a house from the organization, they “pay it forward,” and work on other houses so that more families and people can live in an affordable home. Habitat for Humanity has a disaster response team of volunteers and donors which travels to areas that were struck by disaster in order to provide shelter, and assistance with education and training for those affected by the disaster, while they also work to rebuild the destroyed homes.
Families all over the U.S. and around the world partner with Habitat for Humanity to build better lives and provide homes for families. Those that get a home from the organization often become long-term volunteers and help build houses even after their contract to do so expires. Former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter have partnered with Habitat for Humanity for over 35 years, having started their efforts to build affordable homes in March of 1984. Alongside thousands of volunteers, the Carters have helped build and repair 4,331 homes, and traveled to 14 different countries in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. In January 2020, Saint Martin’s University’s Circle K International club partnered with the Thurston County Habitat for Humanity to help with the construction of a couple houses in the Tacoma area. The Club has mentioned going back to help the organization as there is a strong sense of partnership and fun, while also helping people obtain safe and affordable living.