Philadelphia Housing Authority reopens housing voucher applications

PHA Housing
The Philadelphia Housing Authority’s headquarters is on Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia.

For the first time in more than 12 years, the Philadelphia Housing Authority will be accepting housing voucher applications, under a program previously referred to as Section 8.

Low-income tenants with vouchers can rent an apartment, and PHA will cap their monthly rent contribution to around 30% of their income – provided they can find a unit from a participating landlord, an issue that has long plagued the program.

In conjunction with opening up the waiting list, the housing authority is extending an incentive program that provides bonuses and other benefits to property owners who sign up for the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program.

Following a two-week application window, beginning Jan. 23, PHA will select 10,000 individuals and families through a randomized lottery to add to its HCV waiting list. Kelvin Jeremiah, the authority’s president and CEO, said 2,000 will receive vouchers immediately.

“This is an exciting day and an important day for Philadelphia,” PHA Board Chair Lynette M. Brown-Sow said during a news conference Monday. “Today, I think it’s about bringing hope – hope to our communities, hope to our children, hope so that our communities thrive.”

Philadelphia Housing Authority Board Chair Lynette M. Brown-Sow speaks Monday, Jan. 9, at a news conference about the Housing Choice Voucher program.Jack Tomczuk

The HCV waiting list has been closed since 2010, after more than 55,000 people sent in submissions. Jeremiah said the authority is currently distributing vouchers to the last of those applicants.

He said PHA is expecting a similar degree of interest this time; however, instead of accepting all submissions, the authority settled on limiting the pool to 10,000.

Jeremiah said he expects PHA will be able to get through the list in three-to-five years, allowing them to reopen the application window sooner.

Though anyone can apply for the federally-issued vouchers, PHA will have a preference for those currently living or working in Philadelphia. Applicants, who must complete the form online, will be notified of whether they have been added to the list no later than March 1, according to the authority.

“I think this is a historic moment in the area of affordable housing for low-income families,” John Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, told Metro.

PCDC plans to promote the application process, Chin added, and set up an assistance program for residents with limited English proficiency and digital literacy, since there is no paper application being offered.

While the announcement was celebratory, Jeremiah and others were quick to say that more needs to be done to address the city’s affordable housing crisis.

“Please, please let Congress know, including those folks on the other side, and President Biden that we’re still expecting a whole lot more in terms of funding,” Jeremiah said, in a comment directed toward U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, who attended the news conference.

Philadelphia Housing Authority president and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah, right, speaks with U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans Monday, Jan. 9, at PHA’s North Philadelphia headquarters.Jack Tomczuk

In an attempt to recruit more landlords to participate in the HCV program, PHA began an incentive program in late 2021. It had been set to expire Dec. 31, but has now been extended through June.

Property owners throughout the city can request a per-unit signing bonus of $300, and landlords in an “opportunity area,” higher-income neighborhoods with more amenities, can get a $1,000 payment.

Additionally, the incentive initiative includes an insurance fund that pays landlords as much as $2,500 above the security deposit to repair damages to the unit after a tenant moves out.

Paul Badger, a developer and landlord who participates in HCV, said the incentives have been helpful in “leveling the playing field” for renters with vouchers.

“This program allows PHA to be more competitive with the market-rate tenant,” he added.

HCV applications will open at 6 a.m. on Jan. 23 and remain available at until 5:59 p.m. on Feb. 5. The process is not first-come, first-serve.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines indicate that a single person must not make more than $36,900 a year to qualify for a voucher, and the limit for a family of four is $52,700.

The application will be available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese and Russian, officials said, and anyone with questions or without access to an internet-connected device can call 215-999-3102.

Jeremiah said PHA is aware of scams involving people selling access to the form or spots on the waiting list. There is no application fee or price to get on the waiting list, he said.