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There was an article in Real Change earlier this month about the lottery for the wait list for Section 8 or “housing choice” vouchers. Next month, Seattle Housing Authority will open its waitlist and more than 10,000 families are expected to apply for only 2,000 open spots. If a lucky family gets picked in the lottery they get a place on the list. According to the article, once on the list, the wait can be years before an actual voucher is in hand. Many give up and move away before their names are up.

So let’s say you are one of the lucky ones. You have a voucher. Let’s even say you’ve had this voucher for many years. Did you know that all it takes are policy changes or budget cuts for the voucher to get taken away? It wasn’t until I read this article back in December that I fully realized this myself. I understand that the Section 8 program is not meant to be permanent. However, even people who are fully employed in service jobs such as retail or landscape maintenance – or people who have ongoing medical expenses – may not be able to pay their rent without Section 8 support.

We know that when a family, an individual, a child, has a stable place to live, other areas in their lives benefit. For example, children do better in school when they have somewhere to come home to every day. Yet this stability is completely lacking in the Section 8 rent subsidy program.

This article in the New York Times talks about the increasing need for affordable housing at the same time that funding and support for the few federal programs that provide housing assistance is decreasing. So unless something changes, the people most in need of stability will continue to live with uncertainty instead.

Organizations that provide affordable places to live are dealing with uncertainty, too. Here at Bellwether, we rely on public funding to build and buy apartments that are affordable – as the public funding shrinks, so does our ability to meet the growing need.

One of the most fundamental needs is shelter, a home, a stable place to live. Once people have that, they can begin to build the rest of their lives on a more solid foundation. Should it really be left up to luck?

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