The number of people waiting for federal housing subsidies in New Orleans grew this year, even as the local housing authority plans to hand out slightly fewer of them than last year.
The newly released data offer another indication of the growing scarcity of affordable housing in the city, a trend that has put pressure on local policy makers to increase the stock of affordable units and rein in the practice of renting out thousands of homes online to tourists.
The waiting list for both housing vouchers and spots in public housing developments has grown to more than 35,000 eligible families, up about 3 percent over 2017, according to the Housing Authority of New Orleans.
The increase comes despite the fact that HANO stopped accepting most new applications for the city’s most popular source of public assistance, Section 8 vouchers, in 2016.
HANO will offer about 20,100 federal housing subsidies — both units in publicly owned housing and vouchers for rent at privately owned buildings — in the fiscal year that begins in October, which is down more than 500, or 2 percent, from last year’s number.
"We know that there is an abundant need that is unmet," said Shelley Smith, HANO's director of strategic planning, at a recent board meeting.
The data come from the annual housing plans HANO must submit to the federal government.
Housing subsidies generally are offered to residents who earn below the area’s median income. For some public housing units, a single resident may earn no more than $36,750 a year; for others, they may earn no more than $27,600 annually.
Section 8 vouchers, which a tenant can use with landlords across the city, are offered to those with even lower incomes — no more than $13,800 a year for a one-person household, in some instances, or $23,000 annually at most.
Residents are typically expected to pay 30 percent of their income in rent.
Roughly two-thirds of the city’s renter households qualify for some kind of subsidy, according to federal data. But HANO serves only about 40 percent of them, meaning the majority must pay more than they can comfortably afford for rent.
About 35,000 families are on the waiting lists this year, up from 33,872 families in 2017. Families that have signed up for both the Section 8 and public housing programs are counted only once, officials said.
The slight increase is attributable to more applications for public housing. Those waiting lists open and close periodically.
Meanwhile, the Section 8 waiting list has been closed since 2016, after it opened for a week that year and the agency received more than 24,000 new applications. Before then, the list had been closed for seven years.
In the coming fiscal year, HANO will provide 2,187 public housing units and 17,920 housing vouchers, for a total of 20,107. Last year, the agency provided 2,115 public housing units and handed out about 18,500 vouchers, for a total of 20,615 recipients.
Asked about the decrease in vouchers, Smith stressed that the figures generally are a “projection” and that last year’s voucher projection was too high.
HANO Executive Director Gregg Fortner added that subsidy availability is generally tied to the amount of government funding available. However, HANO’s funding for voucher payments actually ticked up this year by roughly $2 million over last year, to $149 million.
HANO’s efforts are just one portion of a wider city strategy to address affordable housing shortages. The plan also includes incentivizing developers to reserve units for low-income residents and working to expand available housing for middle-income families.
The city has also temporarily halted issuing permits for short-term rentals of entire homes in residential areas to tourists, at least until new rules are created to govern that practice.