Tacoma Housing Authority to End Housing Opportunity Program
New households will receive traditional, income-based Housing Choice Vouchers
On Wednesday, April 27, 2022, the Tacoma Housing Authority’s (THA) Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to sunset the Housing Opportunity Program (HOP). Effective May 1, 2022, THA will no longer issue new HOP subsidies. New households will receive traditional, income-based Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV), commonly referred to as Section 8. Current HOP households will be transitioned over to income-based rental assistance in phases over the course of the year.
The change comes after a thorough review of HOP by the Tacoma Housing Authority, which included public comments from community members and HOP participants. THA anticipates all HOP households will be receiving income-based assistance by the end of 2023, if not earlier.
The Tacoma Housing Authority developed the Housing Opportunity Program subsidy model in 2013, when THA was facing significant budget constraints. The intent of the program was to assist more households with fewer funds. To do this, THA replaced the traditional Housing Choice Vouchers with HOP.
HOP households receive a fixed subsidy based on household size. The HOP subsidy covers 50% of the payment standard and the household is responsible for the remaining rent amount. In a recent review of the Housing Opportunity Program, THA found that due to significant shifts in Tacoma’s housing and rental market over the last few years, households with the lowest incomes have often been unable to afford to pay the remaining rent they are responsible for. In fact, after often waiting more than 1-2 years on THA’s waitlist, about 40% of extremely low-income households never found housing with a HOP subsidy. An overwhelming majority of public comments echoed this data, and virtually all comments favored ending HOP in favor of HCV.
Internal data also indicated a growing disparity between white and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) households, with BIPOC households becoming less likely to lease up with THA assistance in the most recent years. Additionally, when comparing HOP to the traditional HCV program, across nearly all demographic categories, households were more likely to lease up, increase their income, achieve self-sufficiency, and exit with a lower market rent burden if they were on the HCV program.
With a Housing Choice Voucher, a household spends roughly 30% of their income towards the rent. Currently, two-thirds of HOP households are rent burdened, meaning they are spending more than 30% of their income towards rent. These households will experience relief under the new rent calculations.
Additionally, THA’s Board approved eliminating the five-year time limit on assistance for most HOP households. HOP households and those on the Children’s Housing Opportunity Program (CHOP) will no longer be subject to time limits. This change applies to current and future households. The one exception to this change is that participants in the College Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) are still subject to time limits. However, THA currently has a moratorium on enforcing time limits and continues to analyze how this program can more equitably serve Tacoma families.
Frequently Asked Questions
If I currently have a HOP subsidy does this mean my subsidy would be changed to an income-based Housing Choice Voucher?
Yes. Current and future households will receive a Housing Choice Voucher if the changes are approved.
If I currently have a HOP subsidy and have a 5-year time limit, does eliminating the time limit apply to me?
Yes. Most households that are currently on HOP will be included in the proposed changes that include removing time limits. However, we are using this public comment period to determine if participants on CHAP and CHOP will continue to be subject to time limits.
If I’m currently shopping with a HOP subsidy, how will I be affected?
If you are currently shopping for housing, you should continue to do so. Your subsidy will be converted to a traditional voucher in the future.
How much will my subsidy amount change and/or how much I will pay towards rent as a result of these changes?
Unfortunately, we cannot offer hypothetical rent calculations. People’s circumstances change. Any estimates that we provide now may be inaccurate once the changes are approved and implemented.
If the changes are approved, when will they be implemented? When can I expect my rent amount to change?
We have not defined a specific implementation date. This public comment period will allow us to find out if there are any areas of concern that we should address prior to or during implementation. Once the changes are approved and we have developed an implementation plan, we will be communicating with clients to inform them of when the changes will be applied to their household.
I am currently struggling to afford my rent with a HOP subsidy. If the changes are approved, can I be given a traditional voucher immediately?
We have not yet determined how the changes will be implemented. Once they are approved, we will be able to determine how to roll out the changes in a way that is most beneficial to clients and ensure
s a smooth process for staff.
I am a CHAP participant. If the decision is made to discontinue CHAP, will I lose my housing assistance?
No. Current CHAP participants would continue to be served.
Why do fewer people find housing with a HOP subsidy?
There are many reasons why someone may be unable to secure housing with a voucher. We do not know every reason or every barrier that a household encounters, but we do believe there are a few common reasons.
- Even with a subsidy, households cannot afford rent. The HOP subsidy is worth half of the payment standards (or what is considered fair market rent). It is not meant to cover the full rent amount. As a result, households with little to no income might not be able to afford Tacoma-area rents even if they have a voucher.
- Households cannot income qualify. Landlords often want to see that a household can afford the rent. They do this by requiring that a household makes 2-3 times the rent amount. This means the family is able to afford rent in addition to other expenses. If a household does not meet the income threshold set by the landlord, they may be denied.
- Other reasons may prevent a household from finding housing. Factors like poor credit, criminal history, or no rental history can also prevent someone from securing housing. In some cases, a household might find a property, but it does not pass THA’s Housing Quality Standards inspection.
We believe HOP households are less successful finding housing due mainly to lack of income. This is why we believe moving to an income-based subsidy will benefit so many people.
With HOP I can increase my income and not have to pay more rent. How would this change benefit me?
That is a great feature of HOP. With HCV any increases in income do not change the voucher amount until your next recertification or change in unit. Since recertifications happen every 2-3 years (unlike every year with HOP), your portion of the rent amount is not immediately adjusted. This allows you to spend/save the increase in your income as you see fit.
Won’t eliminating the time limit mean people are on assistance for longer, making it harder for people on the waitlist to be served?
Eliminating the time limit does mean that people can receive assistance for a longer period of time. However, we believe these changes will still benefit people on the waitlist for the following reasons:
- People on the waitlist may be more successful finding housing and using the voucher. Currently, one in three people on the waitlist who are offered a voucher do not secure housing and their voucher expires. If someone is on the waitlist, we want to be more confident that they will have a higher likelihood of success at finding housing once their name is pulled.
- These changes may reduce the number of THA clients returning to the waitlist. Our research suggests that people are better off when they receive a traditional voucher. We believe that moving everyone to a more successful program will mean that fewer people are returning to the waitlist in the future. In the long term, this could help ensure that our programs are not contributing to the problem that we are here to solve.
- THA is routinely responding to opportunities to increase the number of people we serve. In addition to housing vouchers, we continue to bring on partnerships with housing developers where we buy down rents to affordable levels for low income Tacomans. These property partners can serve people on our waitlist as well as people who were not selected for the waitlist.
Will these changes have any impact on the homeless population in Tacoma?
THA subsidizes several project-based voucher programs that provide permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. Many of these participants come in through Coordinated Entry (211). Rent amounts are income-based (like the HCV program). Participants who have resided at one of these properties for at least one year have the option to move with a voucher – we call these “move on vouchers”. Currently, the move-on voucher is a HOP subsidy.
If these changes are approved, participants in permanent supportive housing can receive an income-based voucher, making it easier to move without experiencing a significant increase in rent. It is our hope that these residents will find HCV more appealing as a move-on voucher and may move out of permanent supportive housing for others who need it to gain access.