More than 2 million American households rely on a federally subsidized voucher program to afford their rent, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
These vouchers, for example, are what allow some residents of the public housing units on Atlanta Street in Gainesville to relocate as redevelopment of the complex nears.
Out-of-pocket housing costs for voucher recipients are restricted to 30 percent of their income.
But the way these subsidies are calculated have limited the housing options of many low-income households.
Some families from Atlanta Street have been unable to find affordable housing in Gainesville, even with rental assistance, and have moved to places like Athens.
HUD is now looking to change the method for calculating their rental assistance.
“In some areas of the country, the Housing Choice Voucher program offers little choice to families about where they can live, limiting opportunities for themselves and their children,” HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in a statement Wednesday. “We propose to use a tested new approach that would offer these households greater choice to move into higher opportunity neighborhoods with better housing, better schools and higher-paying jobs.”
HUD is proposing to transition from a metropolitan areawide approach to setting fair market rates down to the ZIP code level.
Thirty-one metro areas, including Atlanta, would be impacted if the change is made.
Public comment is being accepted for the next 60 days.
HUD officials cited research indicating that the amount of subsidies distributed under the current method often artificially inflate rents in the poorest neighborhoods, benefiting only landlords.
The new approach aims to “increase voucher holders’ access to a greater number of units in low poverty areas while reducing excess subsidy from some high poverty neighborhoods,” according to HUD.
Local housing experts believe the new approach could be helpful in Gainesville, where vacancies are thin and more than 50 percent of residents spend in excess of 30 percent of their income on housing.
“I am sure rent levels make it difficult to find decent housing” locally, Gainesville Housing Manager Chris Davis said.
The average fair market rent for a one-bedroom across Hall County, which includes utilities, is $691, according to HUD’s current fair market calculation. A two-bedroom costs $824 and a three-bedroom runs $1,069.
Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, said that as long as older adults are able to maintain important community connections, such as church and family, the social and economic benefits of the new approach can be felt by all residents.
“While the research shows that the voucher program will have the most positive long-term socio-economic impact on young children in terms of their ability to access good grade schools, institutions of higher learning and ultimately higher paying jobs, older adults may experience improved health outcomes by living in neighborhoods with lower stress rates,” Moss said.