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Fair Market Rent Survey would create more accurate assistance for low-income renters

Housing assistance vouchers are based on HUD data that can be years old. The GR Housing Commission is relying on renters to give more accurate information.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Over the past two years, the housing market has fluctuated wildly, and rent prices have grown significantly. For families in need of housing and rent assistance, the programs designed to help aren't able to keep up. 

The Grand Rapids Housing Commission administers Housing Choice Vouchers (formerly known as Section 8) are based on data from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, but that data is often multiple years behind current market trends.

"Fair market rents that HUD published last year are coming in at about $200 to $400 less than what landlords are getting on the market right now," said Lindsey Reames, Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Housing Commission. "It's so much easier for a landlord just to say I’m not participating in a program."

Reames and her team are locked into the rates set by HUD. They were granted a temporary waiver, which allowed them to pay 120% of the number set by HUD, but that was a temporary fix. 

In the next few weeks, GRHC will be sending out surveys to 25,000 renters in order to set their own market standard. 

"The survey actually is done by non assisted households," she said, "People who are paying market rent currently so we can take those numbers and submit that as justification to HUD as this is what our market is supporting" They’re hoping to get at least 20 or 30 percent to respond back to ensure they have enough data. If they don't receive enough responses the first time around, follow ups will be sent to other renting households.

Reames says it's crucial people don't toss the letter in the trash. return postage is included with the survey, along with a QR code renters can scan to fill out the survey online in less than ten minutes.

"If our market is supporting rent at a certain level," Reames said, "if we don’t do something to increase our fair market rents than affordable is not going to be affordable at all for the families that we serve." She believes that the buying power of their vouchers needs to grow. Before this current housing crisis, it would only take GRHC 2 months to get someone affordable housing through their vouchers. Now, it is taking up to 6 months, and half of the people the try to assist aren't able to find housing at all.

"Grand rapids is a thriving community, and we can only thrive if we maximize and celebrate our diversity," Reames said. "That diversity incudes all sorts of different aspects of life including affordable housing and income levels."

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