The San Antonio Housing Authority is accepting applications through midnight on Wednesday to replenish its waitlist for federal Housing Choice Vouchers.

The application is just the first step in a long process to receive the housing subsidy, often referred to as Section 8. Despite efforts by SAHA to streamline the process, it can still take two years to get a voucher after getting on the waitlist — and even then, a voucher is no guarantee that a recipient will find an affordable rental.

Distributed to housing authorities by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, SAHA receives about 14,000 vouchers it can award.

After Wednesday’s deadline, the housing agency will randomly select 10,000 applications from the pool of new applications.

Demand is high; since the end of June, SAHA has received about 5,000 new applications, an official said.

To qualify for a Section 8 voucher, applicants must have an income below established federal limits, pass a criminal background check and provide documentation of legal identity and U.S. citizenship. Residents can apply online or call 210.477.6000 for more information.

The federal voucher program requires recipients to pay 30% of their income toward the cost of rent, with the voucher making up the rest.

Once the current waitlist — selected through a lottery in September 2021 — is exhausted, SAHA will begin pulling applicants from the new list of applications. A spokesperson estimated that will occur in October.

In 2017, SAHA had a waiting list with 50,000 applicants, many of whom waited four years for a chance at a Section 8 voucher. The agency decreased the number of people allowed onto its waitlist in 2021 in an effort to shrink wait times.

Now, applicants wait about two years before being offered a voucher, SAHA officials said.

Those selected through the lottery will be contacted starting as early as October to receive a voucher as they become available. If there are more than 10,000, applicants, those not chosen in this round will have to reapply during the next application period.

But getting a voucher doesn’t guarantee housing; if there aren’t any vacancies in SAHA’s properties — it currently oversees about 15,000 units — voucher-holders must turn to private landlords.

Only about 1,400 private landlords currently participate in the program, the SAHA spokesperson said, but “SAHA is always seeking to increase participating landlords in the private market who are willing to rent to families receiving housing assistance.”

As rents continue to increase across the city, however, fewer landlords are finding it economically advantageous to rent to voucher-holders. Landlords who do participate can’t charge more than the federally-designated “fair market” rent for the metropolitan area, which is often lower than what the actual market will bear.

Voucher holders also face the stigma of participating in the federal program; many landlords assume they will be problematic tenants. SAHA officials, landlords and housing advocates have said that any tenant — voucher or not — can be problematic.

State law prohibits cities from banning discrimination based on the source of a renter’s income, but last year the San Antonio City Council approved a rule that requires new housing projects to accept housing vouchers if they receive city incentives.

Under the policy, if a tenant is otherwise not qualified to live at a property, the landlord can still reject them — but it can’t be because of the voucher.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that applicants who don’t get on the waitlist must reapply.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...