Waco Housing Authority

Waco Housing Authority CEO Milet Hopping speaks to the agency’s board in July.

Residents may have an easier time finding Section 8 housing in wealthier areas of McLennan, Hill and Somervell counties after a federal rule forced the Waco Housing Authority and other agencies to raise rental rate caps.

The Waco Housing Authority was forced to comply with new rental rate requirements after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development increased the local agency’s stature from a “medium” authority to a “large” authority, the same as housing authorities in El Paso and Dallas, based on the number of public housing and Section 8 housing tenants.

Previously, HUD calculated a housing authority’s size based only on public housing tenants.

Section 8 assistance had been the same countywide, based on an average fair market rate for the entire area. With the change, assistance will be tailored for each of McLennan County’s 33 ZIP codes based on fair market rates for each smaller area.

The change in Waco’s size classification also comes after multiple civil rights groups sued the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last year for suspending the Obama-era rule requiring ZIP code-based rates, intended to increase low-income families’ access to affordable housing. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia sided against HUD and ordered the federal agency to reinstate the rule.

“What (the rule) does is deconcentrate poverty out of Waco, or to other parts of Waco, rather than so much of it being concentrated in East Waco and South Waco,” Waco Housing Authority CEO Milet Hopping said. “This is to make sure that they’re (Section 8 tenants) not being cheated out of that right to live in any area that they want.”

Before the change in classification, a family that qualified for a two-bedroom Section 8 voucher through the Waco Housing Authority had to find a place that met HUD requirements for less than $840 per month, the countywide average at the time.

With the change, a family’s two-bedroom voucher in Hewitt, the ZIP code with the highest market rate, would be limited to less than $1,070 per month.

A person or family on the Waco Housing Authority’s Section 8 waiting list could wait for three years before getting HUD funding because of the limited number of vouchers Waco receives, Hopping said.

About 2,700 individuals and families are on the waiting list, according to recent Waco Housing Authority estimates.

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