For the first time in nearly seven years, Albemarle County has opened its waiting list for the county’s tenant-based rent voucher program.
Philip Holbrook, Albemarle County Office of Housing program manager, said when the Housing Choice Voucher waitlist last opened in 2015, more than 1,000 people applied and got onto the list. Typically, the county is able to move about 30 clients off the waitlist per year.
The program provides monthly rental subsidies to help individuals and families find an open-market rental unit they can afford. Participants pay about 30% of their adjusted income towards rent and the county housing office pays the rest through funding provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“It didn’t open for seven years because we already had a list that was substantial and it took us some time to work through,” Holbrook said. “But the Office of Housing staff did some incredible work throughout the pandemic to assist a lot of families off the waiting list. We were able to exhaust the waiting list and get us to where we are now where we can reopen, which we’re super excited about.”
People can wait on the waitlist for years, but county officials hope to have only a two-year waitlist.
“Our goal is that if you apply today and are admitted that you will be served within 24 months,” he said.
Holbrook said income is the major criteria for the program.
“We do have an income threshold of 50% of area median income, and we do have a requirement that 75% of our entries per year must be 30% [median income] or less. That’s the HUD requirement,” he said.
Area median income is about $93,700.
Currently, 50% of the median income for one person is $32,800 a year; $37,500 for a family of two; $42,200 for a family of three; and $46,850 for a family of four.
The current 30% level, served by the voucher program, means an income for one person of $19,700 a year; $22,500 for a family of two; $25,300 for a family of three; and $28,100 for a family of four.
The housing office application evaluation includes local preferences to help people in certain situations rise to the top of the waiting list. Those include people who are homeless or have been homeless; families who live, work, or have been hired to work in Albemarle County; current members of the U.S. Armed Forces; veterans who were discharged or released from service under conditions other than dishonorable; surviving spouses of veterans; families that include victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking; and disabled persons or families with a disabled member.
Where to find and return Housing Choice Voucher applicationsHow to get an Application: Online at albemarle.org/government/social-services/housing/waiting-listsIn person at the Office of Housing at the Fifth Street County Office Building at 1600 5th Street, Suite B., from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday – Friday How to submit an application: Mail to 1600 5th St. Suite B, Charlottesville, VA 22902. It must be postmarked by Feb. 7.Via Email at SendToACOH@albemarle.orgVia Fax to (434) 293-0281In-person in the ACOH Drop Box located at 1600 5th Street Deadline is 5 p.m. Feb. 7
Albemarle is allocated 429 vouchers but high rents and low vacancies mean the county is only able to use around 340 vouchers.
“We are funded a significant amount of money by HUD, but it can only go so far,” Holbrook said. “We reach a point where in order to subsidize those 330 to 340 families in this tight rental market, that’s all we can afford.”
Albemarle’s per unit cost for vouchers has increased almost 19% in the last seven years, from $618.98 in 2015 to $735.85 in November 2021, according to HUD data.
Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which manages the city’s Housing Choice Voucher program, has seen an increase of 42.7% in its per unit cost for vouchers, from $533.83 in 2015 to $761.76 in 2021, according to the data.
Once a voucher in the county program is available, Holbrook said the housing office pulls that family off the waiting list and they go through an eligibility period and a document submission process to verify eligibility. If they qualify and receive a voucher, they have 90 days to search for a place.
“We’ve found it is challenging right now with COVID and it’s challenging with the tight rental market, but that’s the amount of time that families have to search once they’ve been issued a voucher,” Holbrook said.
Using $24,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds, Albemarle has launched an incentive program called Bonus Bucks to provide one-time bonus payments to property owners and landlords that have not previously leased to Housing Choice Voucher holders.
First-time voucher program participants can receive $350 per lease with $100 per lease available for participating landlords and owners who refer new property owners.
The housing office currently has between 15 and 20 clients with vouchers who will be seeking apartments starting Feb. 1.
Holbrook said the county did an owner incentive program with Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security – CARES Act funds – and decided to try it again with rescue act funds.
“We’ve found it to be a successful program because it did increase the number of new owners on the program,” he said.
The program will run until June 30, or until funds run out.
Albemarle is accepting applications now through Feb. 7. Applications can be found on the county’s website at albemarle.org/housing under the waitlist tab or at the county’s Office of Housing at the Fifth Street County Office Building at 1600 5th Street, Suite B.
Owners interested in learning more about the incentive program can contact the Office of Housing by calling 434-972-4010, ext. 3392 or email Rental Assistance Coordinator Carter Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To ask questions about the waiting list, call (434) 972-4011 ext. 3107 to leave a voicemail on the county’s waiting list line and a staff member will return the call within two business days.