June 26, 2013

Low income often depend on two federal programs for housing

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Danielle Shepherd

Public housing authorities are responsible for supplying affordable homes to their communities’ populations of low-income residents.

The Housing Authority of Champaign County’s mission statement, for example, is to provide “quality, safe and affordable housing to the citizens of Champaign County.” In order to do so, authorities receive millions of dollars from HUD to build homes and create programs designed to put low-income residents in affordable homes.

Two of the major tools they have to do so are the public housing program and the housing choice voucher program.

Public housing units are publicly funded apartments available at significantly less-than-market rates. Housing authorities oversee these apartments, such as the ones at Washington Square and Skelton Place in Champaign.

The housing choice voucher program, on the other hand, gives low-income residents vouchers to take to a list of certain specially designated landlords for subsidized housing.

This makes the voucher program desirable because it allows low-income residents to search for apartments of their choice, said Samantha Tuttle, who works at Heartland Alliance as the director of policy and advocacy. Voucher holders can look for apartments in the communities of their choice, or even find places near family and friends.

She said it takes the combination of both public housing and the voucher program to successfully provide affordable housing to the masses.

“There really are different needs for different families, and that’s why it’s critical to have an ample supply of housing choice vouchers and also affordable hard units within a community,” Tuttle said.

Other key housing terms and definitions

  • Area median income: The amount a typical household earns within a given community. For example, in Champaign County, the area median income is $44,462 a year.
  • Extremely low income: These households have incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income. In other words, they make at least 70 percent less than a community’s typical household. In Champaign County, extremely low-income households earn $13,338 a year.
  • Very low income: These households have incomes between 30 and 50 percent of the area median income. They earn anywhere from $13,339 to $22,231 a year in Champaign County.
  • Low income: These households have incomes between 50 and 80 percent of the area median income. They earn anywhere from $22,231 to $35,570 a year in Champaign County.
  • Severe Cost Burdened: Households that spend half of their yearly income on housing costs.
  • Cost Burdened: Households that spend 30 percent of their yearly income on housing costs.