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15,000 sign up for Tucson public housing, Sec. 8 voucher waitlists

15,000 sign up for Tucson public housing, Sec. 8 voucher waitlists

About 2,000 households expected to be able to fill out full applications this year; City owns about 1,500 affordable units

  • The Martin Luther King, Jr. Apartments in Downtown Tucson are among the few that accept federal Section 8 housing vouchers in Tucson.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comThe Martin Luther King, Jr. Apartments in Downtown Tucson are among the few that accept federal Section 8 housing vouchers in Tucson.

Tucson residents submitted more than 15,000 pre-applications for the city’s housing and Section 8 voucher waitlists, which opened for the first time in six years in January. About 2,000 are expected to be able to complete applications for those waitlists this year.

The window closed last week to submit a pre-application to get on the waitlists, after three weeks in which residents could apply in-person or online.

The pre-application period was a “success” and proved a “great need for affordable housing by Tucson residents,” Liz Morales, the city’s director of Housing and Community Development, said in a press release.

The city was expecting thousands of applications and “did a great job getting the word out” as well as offering assistance, HCD spokesman Ernesto Portillo said. The high turnout of pre-applications confirmed the huge demand for affordable housing that the city already knew about.

“We know that the demand is great in Tucson for affordable and subsidized housing,” he said. “The demand is huge out there, we know that.”

The city offered assistance to anyone who needed translating, getting forms in braille and even with transportation.

The pre-application is only for a chance to be on the waitlists. A computer will be used each month to randomly select a couple hundred residents at a time from the pool of 15,000 pre-applications, who will then be able to apply for two waitlists.

About 2,000 residents are expected to apply to the lists this year, according to the city of Tucson. Once selected from the pre-application pool, residents will start the eligibility process to apply for either or both waitlists.

The pre-application is still open, and people can apply online. Starting in March, new pre-applications will be added to the pool of 15,000 that have already been submitted and will have a chance to be selected via the computer lottery.

The eligibility process is to determine if applicants qualify for the low-income public housing or Section 8 vouchers. The city limits their public housing to people making 120% of the Area Median Income, a federal standard, which is about $97,000 or less a year for Tucson families.

During the eligibility review, applicants may be ruled out for housing or vouchers as many people apply not knowing their eligibility status, HCD staff said. Many people also find other options and drop out of the process.

The city only owns a few more than 1,500 affordable housing units, and about 4,800 Section 8 vouchers are available, according to state data. Section 8, also known as housing choice vouchers, is federally funded assistance for residents to be able to rent privately owned units.

The length of time people will have to stay on the waitlist is unknown and depends on each case, HCD staff said. Many of the units are currently occupied, and applicants for public housing have to wait until a unit is available that can fit their family size.

Section 8 vouchers similarly have an unknown waiting time though “several hundred are waiting to be released right now,” Portillo said. Housing vouchers don’t guarantee housing, however, as residents still need to find landlords who will take the vouchers and units they can afford.

Tucson City Council passed a source of income ordinance in September that bans landlords from turning down residents because they rely on government assistance, but they later suspended enforcement of the ordinance in early January after former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said it violated state law.

However, the ordinance doesn’t force landlords to accept Section 8, as properties have to be approved to receive money from housing vouchers. The source of income ordinance will likely resume soon as well because Brnovich’s ruling has since been reconsidered by new state Attorney General Kris Mayes.

By Feb. 15, the first set of applicants will be contacted to know that they’re been selected to apply for housing or vouchers. They will be mailed an application packet and instructions to complete the eligibility process.

The selected applicants will have to register and update their information in an online portal, and they can get assistance from city staff to do so. The city will also continue to notify them about their application status.

Tucson’s housing waitlist last opened in 2017, but HCD expects it to now stay open indefinitely. The city laid out steps to meeting demand for affordable housing in their 2021 Housing Affordability Strategy for Tucson plan, which included both the source of income ordinance and the creation of El Pueblo, a nonprofit, city-owned developer whose creation was finalized last week.

Bennito L. Kelty is’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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