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Tia Larkins, shown with her daughter, Rhylee, is searching for a La Grande landlord who will accept her Section 8 housing voucher. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
Many with Housing and Urban Development Section 8 vouchers cannot find housing
The clock is ticking for Tia Larkins of La Grande.
Larkins desperately wants to find an apartment for herself and her 5-year-old daughter, Rhylee.
Unfortunately, the odds of this happening are diminishing each day.
Larkins received a Section 8 housing voucher from the federal government’s Housing and Urban Development in August. She received it through the Northeast Oregon Housing Authority, which manages the Section 8 voucher program for Union, Wallowa, Baker and Grant counties.
Larkins was elated when she received her voucher, because it meant that despite her low income, she could afford to live by herself with her daughter in quality housing.
There is just one catch and it is a big one. Larkins, 25, cannot find a landlord in La Grande with a vacancy who will agree to take her in as a renter through the voucher program.
“It is frustrating. I have been turned down about a dozen times,” Larkins said.
The voucher she was issued would allow her to move into an apartment or rental she could not otherwise afford. When someone is issued a Section 8 voucher it essentially means the federal government will pay the participating landlord the portion of rent the tenant cannot afford.
Larkins, who lives with her daughter and parents in a housing unit with limited space, is running out of time to use her voucher. Everyone issued a Section 8 voucher has 60 days to find an apartment complex or rental for which the landlord will agree to participate in the federal program. Individuals who cannot find a tenant who will accept their voucher can be granted an extension of up to 60 days. Larkins was granted an extension in mid-October, which expires next month.
The single mother is not the only one with a Section 8 voucher searching unsuccessfully for housing. A total of 72 families and individuals in Union, Wallowa, Baker and Grant counties have been issued vouchers and are searching for housing. Thirty-nine of the 72 with Section 8 vouchers live in Union County, said Sarah Parker, the Section 8 voucher manager for the Northeast Oregon Housing Authority.
Factors which help people qualify for Section 8 vouchers include low income, disabled and elderly status.
Many of the people qualifying for vouchers are living with friends, family and in motels. In the summer months, many can be found in campgrounds, Parker said.
Dale Inslee, executive director of the Northeast Oregon Housing Authority, is concerned about the lack of landlords choosing to participate in the voucher program. To address this problem, Inslee is launching a campaign aimed to get more landlords involved in the program. Landlords normally are required to enter into a one-year contract with the housing authority when accepting a tenant with a voucher. Now, however, they have the option of entering into contracts of three to six months.
Many landlords mistakenly believe that if they accept a voucher tenant they will have to meet higher upkeep standards, Parker said. This is far from the truth. All a participating landlord is expected to do is provide an apartment that has heat, running water, operating faucets and showers and sanitation.
“We don’t expect anything more than what a normal tenant would,” Parker said.
Many landlords in the Union, Wallowa, Baker and Grant county area are already participating in the Section 8 voucher program. Inslee noted that each month between $250,000 and $300,000 is paid to participating landlords in the four-county area.
Landlords participating in the program include Rick Simonis of La Grande.
“It is a good program for helping the needy get back on their feet,” Simonis said.