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Kern County reopens housing voucher program for first time in 10 years | News

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Housing Authority of the County of Kern will reopen its Housing Choice Voucher program for new applicants next month.

Commonly known as Section 8 housing, the rental-assistance vouchers have proved a critical resource for thousands of low-income families across Kern County. For the last 10 years, the Housing Authority has not accepted new applications as it worked through a wait list of around 17,000.

Now that the list has been exhausted, new families will finally be able to apply for the program, which guarantees tenants only devote 30 percent of their income to rent, with the Housing Authority paying the remaining balance.

By reducing rent burdens, the Housing Authority hopes to also bring down related stressors like increased rates of domestic violence and attendance problems that studies have linked to families who must pay a high proportion of their income to rent.

“There’s a direct correlation between being overly rent-burdened and negative impacts to that household,” Heather Kimmel, assistant director of the Housing Authority, said at a press conference Wednesday. “So we’re not just providing rental assistance, we’re actually reducing rent burdens for families so that they can be stabilized not only in their living situation and in their homes, but they can be stabilized in other areas of their life.”

As in previous years, the program is expected to be extremely popular. The Housing Authority projects it will receive around 20,000 applications during the monthlong period when they are being accepted.

Around 380 of those applicants will be randomly selected to receive housing vouchers for this year.

But those who miss out will not have to wait another 10 years before they can apply. Unlike its previous policy, the Housing Authority plans to reopen its application window every year. Those who wish to remain eligible will have to keep applying.

“We’re trying to serve as many people as possible, to help as many low-income families in Kern County have that safe and decent housing that they can afford,” said publicist Justin Salters, who helped the Housing Authority market the announcement.

For landlords, the reopening of applications comes at a time of greater acceptance of renters with vouchers. Sanjeev Advani, president of Synergy Real Estate and Property Management, said the opinions of landlords across Kern County have changed over the last five years, with property owners now more willing to rent to those with housing vouchers.

“The vouchers are more relevant today than they have been in the past,” he said. “As of right now, for the rent that you can get a three-bedroom, you can get about $1,450 per month. That’s going to put you in a C/C+ type neighborhood, which you’re going to have a decent school. So I think that’s really, really good. Whereas before, I would have said that you have a little bit more of that stigma.”

The application window will open from 10 a.m., Jan. 28 to 5 p.m., Feb. 28. Only online applications will be accepted. More information can be found at hcv.kernha.org.

Only households earning 80 percent of the area median income or less will be allowed to apply. In Kern County, a family of four must earn less than roughly $55,000 per year. A member of the household must also have legal immigration status or be a U.S. citizen to be eligible.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

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