9 Investigates: Out-of-state housing vouchers

by: Catherine Bilkey Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - People from other cities are flooding Charlotte's affordable housing system because of federal guidelines that allow people from out of state to almost immediately get the same housing here if they have a voucher from another city.

Eyewitness News talked to people here in Charlotte, who have lived here for years, trying to get affordable Section 8 housing. They say the system simply isn't fair.

The waiting list for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, better known as Section 8, is indefinitely closed.

There are around 950 families on that wait list here in Charlotte and many more just trying to get on the list. Kimberly Hall says she's been trying for almost eight years.

"Every time I call or go they say the list is closed, and I'm just not understanding how I'm constantly watching people get on Section 8 if the list is closed," Hall said.

We found that people from out of state, who already have housing vouchers, are allowed to move into Charlotte's system without ever having to get on a wait list here.

And as long as they meet criminal background and financial requirements, Charlotte is required to "port" them in - letting them transfer their voucher here from another city.

"We currently have about 1,200 participants that are currently porting in from another jurisdiction," Housing Choice Voucher Program Director Shawn Williams said.

Williams says the city administers out-of-state vouchers on behalf of the original housing authority instead of giving the families vouchers that people on Charlotte's wait list need. Right now, Charlotte's Housing Authority has around 4,000 active vouchers serving residents here in Charlotte; in addition they're overseeing 1,200 people who have moved here from other cities or other states. They aren't taking Charlotte's vouchers but they are taking limited affordable housing in the area.

Eyewitness News asked if it makes it more difficult for people here in Charlotte to compete with them to find housing.

"Well there's always a challenge for affordable housing, and in the Charlotte area ...it's a very desirable area," Williams said.

It's so desirable it's attracting families from four states away.

"We see a lot of families coming who are from the New York area because...the cost of living is of course less expensive than it is in New York," Williams said.

Federal guidelines make it clear that having a job here isn't a requirement to move into Charlotte's affordable housing, which Hall thinks simply allows them to cut in line ahead of locals

"You watch people come in with U-Hauls," Hall said. "You know they don't live here. And it's just not fair."

But Williams says out-of-state transplants likely already waited in a long line to get their voucher issued by another housing authority, and the portability program allows them to move to a place where they may have a better opportunity to succeed.

"A lot of people don't understand the portability program," Williams said. "They think that they're just getting a voucher issued but that family could have had that voucher for years and decide this is an area that they'd be interested in."

Federal guidelines require local housing authorities to help those families move forward quickly. According to a federal guidebook, the program may "not unduly delay the family's housing search". But some Charlotte families on the wait list list have been waiting for housing for years with no mention of what an unduly delay means for them.

The Charlotte Housing Authority did want us to make clear that it's still pulling people off the wait list as vouchers become available.