For the first time in about two years, Fairfax County is offering federal rent vouchers to about a third of the 831 people who have been on a waiting list for subsidized housing, officials announced Tuesday.
Rent vouchers had been frozen in Fairfax and other parts of the country after federal sequestration cuts took hold in 2013 and funding for housing programs either decreased or was frozen, officials said.
The plan to disburse 280 federal housing-choice vouchers by the end of the next fiscal year comes as some of those sequestration cuts start to ease.
County officials couldn’t determine Tuesday how much more money will be arriving from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. But they said it’s been enough to allocate 244 of the 280 new housing-choice vouchers to wait-list families since July.
Even so, there is not enough coming in for the county to add families to its wait list, which has been effectively closed since 2007.
“Nothing would make me happier than to open the waiting list for new people,” Kurt Creager, director of Fairfax County’s Department of Housing and Community Development, told the Board of Supervisors during a committee hearing.
“We know that poverty has increased nationally and locally” in recent years, Creager said.
Barbara Sard, who analyzes federal spending on housing programs for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said Fairfax County has fared better than most other jurisdictions in the country with respect to money for subsidized rents in the 2016 fiscal year.
The county is among 35 jurisdictions nationwide that are part of the federal Moving to Work Demonstration Project, which placed them in a special funding category after they proved that they are more efficient than their counterparts at working to move their voucher recipients into self-sufficiency, Sard said.
“For those agencies, it’s a pretty good year,” she said.
Other agencies around the country have been forced to cut their voucher programs while Fairfax has kept its population steady, Sard said.
Pamela L. Michell, executive director of New Hope Housing, said the release of new vouchers has generated optimism among affordable-housing advocates in Fairfax.
“We are thrilled,” Michell said. “We haven’t had vouchers in so long, and we’re able to move people into the system now.”
She added, however, that the problem now is figuring out who gets the subsidies, which are divided into categories serving veterans, chronically homeless people and low-income families.
“We’re trying to figure out what makes the most sense,” Michell said. “How do you divvy up an inadequate resource and use it the best way and still be fair? It’s very complicated.”