The Alachua County Housing Authority (ACHA) will open its voucher waitlist after six years of working through nearly 2,000 applicants from the last application period.
The waitlist distributes Section 8 vouchers from the federal government and will open from Monday to Thursday, Oct. 24-27, before closing again. The vouchers allow recipients to go into the private sector and pay for housing with the funds.
Amanda Nazaro, director of voucher programs for ACHA, said the authority expects a similar turnout to 2016. She said Monday will be busy as applicants form a line around the building and employees explain and assist.
Nazaro said the list is not first come, first served. Anyone who applies during the four days will be added to the list before the order is randomized, meaning someone who applies Monday could end up in the 900th slot while a Thursday applicant could be 12th on the list.
“We start handing out the applications in the line, and we let people know ‘take it with you, bring it back,’” Nazaro said. “Since it’s not time sensitive, it’s a very loose process.”
Once randomized, Nazaro said the ACHA will shuffle applicants based on priorities included in the application—disabled and homeless. After those considerations, people stay in the randomized order and could wait for years.
“So, it will be hard,” Nazaro said. “These families should not think they’re going to get vouchers right away. All that we’re doing, really, is we want to have that waitlist again.”
On Oct. 1, ACHA received an additional 10 regular Section 8 vouchers, bringing its total to 407. The housing authority also has 208 Mainstream vouchers for disabled applicants and 533 HUD-VASH vouchers for veterans.
The ACHA can only issue new vouchers when a current voucher recipient leaves the program. Nazaro said that happens mostly from people graduating out of the program and finding stability on their own. However, ACHA also disqualifies recipients for breaking terms.
“This is the first time in 15 years, I’ve seen truly just Section 8 vouchers coming in,” Nazaro said. “It’s been that long.”
In a year, Nazaro said around 46 people will leave the regular Section 8 housing program and more than double that will leave the veteran’s program. ACHA always wants a waitlist in order to immediately fill those vacancies and show the government that it has demand, she said.
Currently, the only waitlist not at capacity for ACHA is its HUD-VASH program for veterans. Veterans must be referred to the program by the Department of Veteran Affairs, and ACHA has 533 of those vouchers compared to 407 regular Section 8 vouchers.
With the VA’s Malcom Randall Medical Center, ACHA has one of the largest allocations of veteran vouchers in the state, Nazaro said. Most housing authorities allocate more regular Section 8 than HUD-VASH.
Eligibility requirements are available online. They screen for violent and drug offenses within a certain timeframe and income amounts. For Section 8, the federal guidelines say a family’s income may not exceed 50% of the median income for the county or metropolitan area they live in.
“Anyone should apply whether they think they qualify or they don’t,” Nazaro said. “That’s the best thing you can do. Let us be the ones to screen for eligibility.”
She added that situations change with the COVID-19 pandemic showing the world’s volatility. If someone loses their job in the next year or two, they may qualify. But if their name isn’t on the list, it could be another six years before they can reapply.
Because of federal compliance, the ACHA must open its waitlist to people applying from other counties and states. If selected, applicants can move to Alachua County and use the voucher.
Vouchers are also transferrable to any part of the county. So, a local voucher family that moves for work can take the voucher without needing to reapply and wait at a new housing authority.
Nazaro said transferring vouchers can be beneficial for applicants, and ACHA serves more than 20 voucher recipients who have moved to the area. Most times, the new housing authority will absorb the family with their own Section 8 voucher, Nazaro said, opening another slot on the ACHA’s waitlist.
Because few housing authorities have open lists and it’s a federal program, Nazaro said applicants can come from all over. The ACHA has made their application process in person, along with reasonable accommodations, to push for local applicants.
“I want to serve Alachua County with my vouchers,” Nazaro said. “If families apply all over the place, right, then I’m going to have to service them in the cities and states that they live in.”
Nazaro said she thinks opening online will overwhelm the list.
The ACHA opened a public housing waitlist earlier in 2022, and Nazaro said the organization received thousands of applications for its 276 units compared to the usual hundreds of applicants. That waitlist was entirely online, and Nazaro said being online probably boosted the number.
The Gainesville Housing Authority (GHA) also opened its waitlist this year on Aug. 25. GHA hosted the entire process online and limited the entries to the first 800.
According to the GHA website, all its waitlists are closed.
Depending on the number of applications, ACHA could see another six-year gap before opening its Section 8 list. Nazaro said her team works through 200-300 applicants per year and she continues filling out grants and requests for additional vouchers.
“That’s the goal: to keep growing the program, getting more vouchers so our waitlist can move faster and we can house the families in need,” Nazaro said.
Alachua County Housing Authority voucher and housing numbers
- Issued 201 vouchers
- 129 for veterans
- Housed 145 individuals/ families
- Issues 281 vouchers
- 172 for veterans
- Housed 206 individuals/ families
- Issued 243 vouchers
- Housed 72 individuals/ families
- 132 left on list.