World News

Florida Housing Director: ‘Almost impossible’ to find affordable housing

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — The housing crisis is so dire, some families say they are forced to sleep in cars and motels as they search for affordable units.

Last week, 8 On Your Side exposed flaws with the federal rental assistance program. Now, Investigator Mahsa Saeidi is seeking a solution from a local housing director.

Rent has spiked. Federal vouchers are not keeping up. Dozens of families tell 8 On Your Side, as a result, they’re homeless.

For days, we have looked for a solution. Now, we might have one.

“It is almost impossible for families to find affordable housing,” said Elisa Galvan.

Currently, Elisa is the Housing Choice Voucher Director at the Pinellas County Housing Authority. For a quarter century, Elisa has helped families find a home.

If a family qualifies for Section 8, they get a HUD voucher to cover rent. In the past, Elisa says voucher holders quickly found a place. But now, more than 150 families are out of luck in Pinellas County.

“Has it ever been that high before?” asked Investigator Mahsa Saeidi.

“Never, never that high,” said Elisa. “They just cannot find a unit in the community, and it’s disheartening for me to tell them, I don’t have any listings.”

Listings are down because some landlords have dropped out of Section 8. The reason? HUD’s vouchers have not kept up with rent hikes in the Tampa Bay area.

This month, we showed you the impact on vulnerable families. Some said they’re living in cars or motels.

“It would be good to have something to live in,” said Alonzo Mann.

8 On Your Side asked Elisa about a potential fix to this crisis.

“The housing authority has rules and we have to follow HUD’s rules on how much tenants can afford,” Elisa said.

“You’d like to see HUD get rid of that cap?” asked Saeidi.

“Absolutely.” Elisa was referring to HUD’s maximum rent burden rule that mandates a family “must not pay more than 40 percent” of income toward rent.

Elisa wants more flexibility for families who’ve fallen thru the cracks.

“If it was that the tenant automatically just pays 30% and the housing authority picks up the rest, it would work out,” Elisa said.

“This is a government regulation and formulas and until somebody up in Washington understands it in some areas this would help, we won’t be able to change those rules.”

A HUD spokesman is working on 8 On Your Side’s request for information and an interview.

Meantime, we’ve learned in the past two years, approximately 250 landlords have dropped out of the Section 8 program in Pinellas County alone.

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