Section 8 rule change could help low-income NJ residents

BY Briana Vannozzi, Senior Correspondent |

“If it wasn’t for the housing voucher I wouldn’t be able to get by,” said Oakhurst resident John Boross.

And neither would the other roughly 157,000 low-income households in New Jersey relying on federal rental assistance. Boross just secured his new home in September at an Oakhurst, Monmouth County apartment complex. But the road to get there was tough because opportunities for affordable housing in New Jersey are few and far between.

“I lived in about four different places in the span of about six months, including a hotel. It was difficult. I lived in a respite house, too, so I knew once I got settled in there I was very happy to just put down some roots,” said Boross.

A recent ruling from a federal judge might make it easier for struggling residents to put down those roots. It requires the U.S. Department of Housing and Development to immediately implement an Obama-era rule that recalculates the subsidy amount for families receiving Section 8 public housing vouchers.

“The current rent calculation is based on a geographical or statistical area, and in New Jersey, it encompasses usually about two counties. So, for example in Monmouth and Ocean it encompasses both communities and it’s set for the whole area. The challenges is that there might be towns within those communities where rents might be much higher than what fair market rate is set at, so a person with a voucher is not able to rent in certain communities because it’s unaffordable and out of reach,” said Taiisa Kelly, senior associate with Monarch Housing.

Kelly says the new calculations will be based on zip code. That’s particularly helpful in areas like Oakhurst and others hit hard by Sandy.

“After Sandy hit, there were a lot of people who were former homeowners now in the rental market, so units that used to be affordable to people with vouchers are no longer affordable because we have homeowners renting less units,” said Kelly.

“So for people within those areas, it means they can take their housing voucher and move to an apartment in an area that has better schools, less crime and offers more availability for their family to be able to thrive,” said Arnold Cohen from the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey.

Right now, these changes to the calculations only apply to Bergen, Passaic, Monmouth and Ocean counties, though housing experts expect HUD to roll them out for the rest of the state.

Boross got his voucher relatively easily, if you call waiting for five months easy. It’s not the nightmare many of his friends have faced. HUD is woefully behind, just one in four applicants receive a voucher according to the Housing and Community Development Network, but it’s a life changer.

“The housing voucher pays for 60 percent of my rent, so I pay $445 out of my pocket, which is terrific. I get an extra $400 to $500 a month and with that I can pay all my bills and meet any consequences that come my way,” he said.

Boross says he’s hoping to stay there for as long as possible and hopes others get the opportunity to share in his story.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by the JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.