Anchorage Housing Voucher Program Re-opens with Lottery System

Photo from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. Click for a link to the AHFC Facebook page.

A new Housing Choice Voucher Program could help some Alaskans struggling to pay the rent. The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation just opened a new lottery system for the vouchers. It will be used in Anchorage first, and officials say it will speed things up and could become a model for other communities.

Last year, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation stopped taking applications for their housing assistance waiting list, in order to clear out a backlog of thousands. This week, they began accepting applications again, but with a change. According to the director of the Alaska Housing Authority, Catherine Stone, the change is a step toward a more efficient system. Here’s how it works.

“The Lottery system that we’re going to is something that’s been used in the Lower 48 for several years, with a lot of success,” Stone said. “We get the applications, we process them and then we do a computerized, randomized lottery.”

“And it’s a little more fair so people know where they are on the list and can expect that their number will be called in a certain order.

The old voucher program operated on a preference system which used points that qualified applicants to move up the list. For instance if you were disabled or elderly you got more points and moved up quickly. But if you were only low income you didn’t get as many points and ended up at the bottom of the list.

“The old preference-based point system was moving people on and off the list in front of other people, depending on certain categories,” Stone said. “So what we ended up having was a large block of people at the end of the voucher waiting list that had been on there for years with no expectation of every moving up the list.”

Some people were on that list for seven years, Stone says. Alaska Housing Finance Corporation closed the list in June 2011. Now they’re down to just a couple hundred people. The application period reopened Oct. 1. It will last a month. And they’ll take up to 2,500 applicants for Anchorage. There are 4,500 total available statewide.

“It’s truly just a needs based system. If you meet the income criteria, then you can apply for the program. If you get in with the lottery then you can expect to receive voucher within the next year, year and half at the latest. And then we do anticipate that after that point in time, we’ll open it up again,” Stone said.

In order to get a voucher, a single person can’t make more than $29,850 and a couple can’t exceed a gross annual income of $34,100. With each child the income limit goes up. When somebody gets into the voucher program, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation works with them and your landlord to pay a portion of their rent. Participants in the voucher program find their own housing and pay 30 percent of their adjusted income in rent. Alaska Housing Finance Corporation pays the remainder of the rental amount directly to the landlord. With the average market price for a 1 bedroom apartment in Anchorage around $950 and a tight rental vacancy rate, stone says she expects a lot of applicants. And historically, the most vouchers have gone to Anchorage residents. Officials say they’re evaluating whether to begin using the lottery system in other cities across the state with long waiting list like, Juneau and Fairbanks and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The application for the voucher program through the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation ends Oct. 31.

When you apply you’ll need to know your gross annual income, and have a mailing address. All applications, regardless of when they are submitted during October, will be considered. Paper applications are available at the new Anchorage Family Investment Center on Benson Boulevard across from the Sears Mall. They must be mailed in. There is also an online application. See the links below.

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Daysha Eaton, KMXT - Kodiak
Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.