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A bump in the value of housing vouchers help low-income San Diegans

A for rent sign in front of a cottage in San Diego, Ca., Oct. 30, 2018.
KPBS Staff
A for rent sign in front of a cottage in San Diego, Oct. 30, 2018.

An ongoing problem with San Diego’s housing voucher program for low-income families has been a combination of the region’s high-housing costs and the relatively low voucher amounts, which meant families in the program could only afford to live in a few neighborhoods.

Each year, the San Diego Housing Commission increases the voucher amount with direction from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). But the increases were usually small. For example, in 2019 and 2020, the commission boosted voucher amounts by 4% and 5%, respectively.

But this year, the value of housing vouchers for holders living in higher-income neighborhoods went up significantly—by 37% from 2021. Meanwhile, voucher holders who live in lower-income neighborhoods saw their vouchers increase by 15%.

Vouchers are split into three tiers where more money is going to those who live in more expensive neighborhoods. However, previously, the voucher amounts weren’t enough to cover the high rents in places like La Jolla or Point Loma.

That changed in January, said Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi, lead counsel for the NAACP San Diego branch.

“Payment standards have been significantly increased in many neighborhoods with better performing schools, more opportunities for employment, and less exposure to adverse environmental conditions and industrial nuisances,” she said.

For example, a family who wanted to live in high-cost University City could get $3,023 a month for a two-bedroom apartment—about $1,000 less than average rent in that area. Last year, they would have gotten around $2,200 a month.

A family living in San Ysidro would now get $1,763 a month—which is also about $1,000 less than that area’s average rent. Last year, they would have gotten around $1,532 a month.

But, Ijadi-Maghsoodi said, many voucher holders didn’t know about the change. That included Tasha Williamson, a civil rights activist and housing voucher holder.

“As a voucher holder, I would have expected the San Diego Housing Commission to have informed me of the payment standard changes that could now allow me to access other areas of the city, but they did not,” Williamson said at a press conference on Monday.

In response, a San Diego Housing Commission spokesman sent a statement saying its voucher program “has been shown successful at providing households more options to live in neighborhoods of their choice.”

For example, he said 65% of new voucher holders moved into higher-income neighborhoods in the last fiscal year.