Thursday, March 30, 2023

Hundreds of people receive Section 8 vouchers in James City, York. Hundreds more have been waiting for years

Burnt Ordinary Apartments is one complex that accepts Section 8 housing choice vouchers. (WYDaily/Courtesy Google Maps)
Burnt Ordinary Apartments is one complex that accepts Section 8 housing choice vouchers. (WYDaily/Courtesy Google Maps)

In James City and York counties, where rental units are pricey and affordable housing is scarce, hundreds of area residents each month get a little boost.

That comes in the form of housing choice vouchers, also known as Section 8 vouchers, which are used by about 400 area renters to supplement their rent each month.

But there are hundreds more on waiting lists, and some have been waiting since 2012.

After narrowing down waitlists and removing those who may not qualify, both Historic Triangle counties collectively have 837 people on housing choice voucher waitlists.

Even though the waitlists are full, hundreds more applicants didn’t make the cut.

“There’s a huge amount of demand for these,” said Abbitt Woodall, Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Division manager for York County. “The Historic Triangle area, the Peninsula in general and York County specifically — it’s an expensive place to live.”

York County’s housing choice voucher waiting list has not opened to new applications since 2012. It was only open one day and received “thousands” of applications, Woodall said.

James City County’s housing choice voucher list last opened in September 2017, and also received more than 3,000 applications, according to James City County Social Services data.

Despite garnering thousands of applications, James City and York counties have a maximum of 268 and 135 housing choice vouchers to distribute, respectively. The vouchers are fueled by a limited amount of funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is funneled through the counties to tenants.

“I can go through and see where people in our program work,” Woodall said. “I see Head Start staff, school bus drivers. I see school aids and healthcare [certified nursing assistants].”

York County gives out $1.8 million in housing assistance payments annually, a “very small component” of which is for utility assistance, Woodall said.

James City County gives between $1.03 million and $1.12 million each year in housing assistance payments, county Social Services Director Rebecca Vinroot said.

The city of Williamsburg does not offer or distribute housing vouchers, city spokeswoman Lee Ann Hartmann said.

Landlords, extensive process

But the process doesn’t stop when a person receives a housing choice voucher: Those who are able to get one of the coveted vouchers need to find a landlord who will accept the subsidized rent.

While any landlord can accept a housing choice voucher — whether they are on a landlord list compiled by a voucher administrator with the county or not — there are limited numbers of those landlords.

York County has a list of 84 landlords that county voucher administrators know accept Section 8. Of those, nine are apartment complexes and 75 are privately-owned units.

In James City County, there are 49 landlords that accept housing choice vouchers: 28 from apartment complexes and 21 who are private landlords, Vinroot said. She added the county is always looking to “recruit more landlords.”

“Ultimately, the participant has the right to find anyone and talk to them and see if they’re willing to accept [the voucher],” Woodall added.

Residency and vetting process

While specific localities give out the housing vouchers, applicants do not need to be a resident of that particular county.

Voucher waitlists can be long, so some applicants will apply for vouchers from localities they do not live or work in if that waitlist opens up.

The York County waitlist currently has 328 applicants, 323 of which do not live or work in the county. James City County’s 509-applicant waitlist is comprised solely of James City County residents.

While applications are open to anyone, both James City County and York County prioritize those who live or work in their respective localities, Woodall and Vinroot confirmed.

The question of residency popped up recently in connection with the Oakland Pointe affordable apartment complex.

To strengthen the apartment project’s application for tax credit incentives, the developer requested the city of Hampton allocate some project-based housing vouchers to the affordable complex.

James City County administrators agreed to pen a letter in favor of those housing vouchers, but only if county residents received priority to receive them.

While they’re waiting

With lengthy waitlists, both counties work to provide housing choice voucher applicants with other options while they wait for a housing voucher to come available.

James City County and York County will direct people to their other programs, including first-time homebuyer programs.

They also will share when a nearby jurisdiction is set to open up its housing voucher waitlist.

“Section 8 is one of the many things we do,” Woodall said. “We want to help people where they are while they’re waiting.”

Demographics of those who receive vouchers

York County:

  • 24 percent elderly
  • 32 percent disabled
  • 15 percent both elderly and disabled

James City County

  • 12 percent elderly
  • 45 percent disabled
  • 64 percent working
  • 55 percent with children under age 18
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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