Federal standards for how much a Section 8 landlord in San Diego can charge for rent have increased but the amount of money provided to San Diego Section 8 tenants hasn’t changed since 2009, according to documents and data reviewed by NBC 7 Investigates.
According to San Diego Housing Commission records, over 15,000 residents in the City of San Diego rely on government assistance to help pay their rent every month. The Housing Commission is the agency responsible for distributing federal housing assistance funds in the City of San Diego. This includes assistance to low-income residents, provided through Section 8 funding, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
Anthony Zinga moved to the Mount Hope neighborhood of San Diego four years ago and relies on Section 8 housing.
“It’s just all around better for me to live here in San Diego,” he said.
Zinga is disabled and has relied on Section 8 housing assistance for over a decade.
“I have never had an issue with the program, it’s always worked and everybody works with you until I moved to San Diego,” he said. “Now I’m having issues.”
Last year, Zinga said his landlord told him his rent would be increasing due to new federal rental rates determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The agency is responsible for setting the bar for how much a Section 8 landlord can charge when renting a property through the Section 8 program.
HUD releases these rate standards, called “Fair Market Rents”, each fiscal year. According to Eduardo Cabrera, a spokesperson for HUD, the rental rates are calculated using United States Census Bureau data and can change each year.
To see HUD’s Fair Market Rents for the last five years, click here or look below.
When a Section 8 landlord wishes to increase monthly rents, a federal mandate requires the landlord’s increase be approved by the San Diego Housing Commission.
In an email, Azucena Valladolid, Senior Vice President of the Rental Assistance Division for the San Diego Housing Commission told NBC 7 Investigates, “Property owners are required to notify the public housing agency of any changes in the amount of the rent at least 60 days before any such change can take effect. Changes in the rent shall be subject to rent reasonableness requirements and may only take place after the initial term of the lease.”
According to the San Diego Housing Commission, since HUD’s Fair Market Rent standards for FY2017 were published last October, it has approved 1,982 rent increases for Section 8 households as of February 24.
“I was furious but I can’t blame it on my landlord because he’s within his right to raise the rent,” Zinga said.
With his rent increase coming in April, the amount of money Zinga pays out of pocket for rent will nearly double, going from $335 a month to $645.
“By the time I take out the rent and utilities, and my personal bills, I’m left with maybe $40 a month for food,” he said.
Zinga’s out of pocket rent expenses will nearly double because the amount of money he receives each month towards rent from the San Diego Housing Commission has not increased in correlation with the federal rental rate standards.
According to HUD, in the City of San Diego, federal dollars are distributed as a lump sum payment to the San Diego Housing Commission. The Housing Commission is responsible for determining how that money is spent, including how much money a Section 8 renter receives each month.
In 2009, HUD gave the San Diego Housing Commission a “Moving to Work” designation.
According to HUD, this means the local agency has more freedom to spend federal dollars the way local leaders see fit. San Diego is one of 39 public housing agencies nationwide to receive the designation.
“MTW [Moving to Work designation] gives Public Housing Authorities exemptions from many existing public housing and voucher rules and more flexibility with how they use their Federal funds,” Cabrera wrote in an email to NBC 7 Investigates. The designation, according to Cabrera, also means less reporting requirements for how the local agency spends federal dollars.
NBC 7 Investigates compared HUD’s Fair Market Rents to the amount of money the San Diego Housing Commission provides Section 8 renters. According to the Housing Commission, the amount of money paid to Section 8 renters hasn’t changed since 2009.
Meanwhile, HUD’s federal rental rate for a one-bedroom apartment like Zinga’s has increased by more than 27% since 2013.
“Each year, SDHC’s payment standards have been within the range of 90 to 110 percent of Fair Market Rents since 2009, until 2016, when SDHC began its analysis of Fair Market Rents and payment standards,” Valladolid wrote in an email to NBC 7 Investigates.
Valladolid said the San Diego Housing Commission is currently evaluating whether or not they should increase the amount paid to Section 8 renters, an evaluation that is expected to take three-to-four months to complete.
When asked why the Housing Commission has approved rent increases without providing more money to renters, NBC 7 Investigates was referred back to the evaluation taking place.
“It’s important to know that the increases in the rental payment amount mean less funding would be available to assist additional low-income families on our waiting list,” Valladolid told NBC 7 Investigates in an interview by phone. “So the question is do we assist more families with less payment standards or do we assist less families with a higher payment standard amount.”
In San Diego, the Housing Commission said the wait list for the number of families hoping to receive federal rental assistance is approximately 78,000.
For residents like Zinga, dealing with the inevitability of rent increases, the options are slim: pay the higher cost or move.
“How am I going to pay the rent? And am I going to have to move? How am I going to move?” Zinga said.
The San Diego Housing Commission added that for some renters with disabilities, extra assistance may be available, as well as vouchers for veterans through the local VASH program. Renters facing a move can also apply for help through the San Diego Housing Commission’s security deposit loan program.