LA's Section 8 housing program plagued by unused vouchers, landlord rejections

ByRob Hayes and Grace Manthey KABC logo
Monday, May 15, 2023
Frustrations mount over L.A.'s Section 8 failures
Eyewitness News has found troubling failures of the federal Section 8 housing voucher program in LA leading to thousands of vouchers going unused while the city's homelessness problem worsens.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The ABC7 Eyewitness News investigative data team has found chronic, troubling failures of the federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program in Los Angeles leading to thousands of the vouchers going unused while the city's homelessness problem grows worse.

"I have seen people who have a voucher and they just can't use it, and so then they end up losing their voucher and they have to start all over," said Jazzmin Parson, who waited a year and a half for her Section 8 voucher.

Officials for the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) say the biggest problem they run into is a lack of landlords who will accept Section 8 residents.

"It is very challenging and tough for our tenants to connect with a landlord and find a unit," explained Carlos Van Natter, the director of Section 8 at HACLA. "The landlord is not required to accept a Section 8 voucher holder. We hope that they do and many of them do do that."

But not enough of them are. Our data team found that Los Angeles has more than 58,000 subsidized housing units and vouchers at its disposal. Of those homes and vouchers, 85% are being used. But the vast majority of those that are going unused are the Section 8 vouchers.

With roughly 42,000 people unhoused, LA's homelessness problem is one of Mayor Karen Bass's biggest challenges.

"We have a couple of thousand vouchers that people could use, but we need landlords to be willing to take those vouchers," Bass told Eyewitness News.

But there are considerably more than a "couple thousand vouchers." According to the latest federal data, Los Angeles had roughly 9,000 Section 8 vouchers that went unused last year.

Meanwhile, the process of getting a Section 8 voucher can take several years. Applicants literally have to win a lottery just to move forward in the program.

The last time the city opened up its Section 8 voucher waiting list, more than 200,000 people applied. Roughly 30,000 are picked in the lottery and are placed on a waiting list, where they can remain for several years before receiving a voucher.

And then if a person is actually given a voucher, they then have to find a rental that will accept what the government is offering.

A recent study found that in Los Angeles, less than half of voucher holders were able to find a landlord who would agree to rent to them.

"There's just not enough protections that are out there, so many landlords continue to just say, 'No Section 8' blatantly," said Manuel Villagomez, an attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

Villagomez says even though California and Los Angeles laws prohibit landlords from turning away potential tenants because they have Section 8 funding, they still find other ways of doing it.

"Credit checks, deposits, application fees, holding deposits that are being collected now... There are these issues that people in the Section 8 program aren't able to meet," he said.

HACLA officials say they are now boosting the Section 8 rent money offered to landlords in higher cost areas in an effort to get more people housed, but experts say there are still many other obstacles to making Section 8 more successful.

"You have to find a rental unit at or below the fair market rent. The landlord, very importantly, has to agree to participate in the program, which means that they don't have biases against people that are using government money," explained Professor Michael Lens, from UCLA's School of Urban Planning and Public Policy. "So there are these things that get in the way."

As for Jazzmin Parson, the Section 8 program took about a year and a half to work, but she and her two teenage kids were able to move into a two-bedroom apartment in Torrance this month.

"It's life-changing, for me and my kids," she told Eyewitness News. "It's wonderful... I'm on the right path to success."