Need for housing vouchers eight times what’s available in Lakeland, study finds

The number of eligible households far outnumbers the number of available housing vouchers, according to a new Zillow survey.

Researchers found across the country’s metros, 19 million households met the criteria for Housing Choice Voucher eligibility in 2021, but there were only two million available vouchers.

The Housing Voucher Program known as Section 8 is a federal rent subsidy that assists low-income households with monthly rental payments.

READ: Florida considers repeal of tenant bill of rights ordinances at local level

"The fact that so many low-income families are faced with this rent constraint means that many are likely to fall behind, face higher risk of eviction and even homelessness," Orphe Divounguy, a Zillow senior economist, said.

The survey ranked Lakeland as the fourth-highest cost burdened, finding there are eight times as many households as there are available vouchers for rent. 

It defined moderately cost-burdened renter households as those who spend 30% of income on rent and severely cost-burdened renter households who spend 50% of income on rent.

It’s something the Talbot House Ministries in Lakeland says they see the impact of each day.

MORE: Tampa unveils 100 tiny homes to help homeless with transitional housing

"When someone's not able to get access to housing right away, they become homeless," said Erin Martinez with Talbot House Ministries. "Whether that's a visibly homeless person that's coming to Talbot house and seeking shelter, or someone who's living in their car or surfing on a couch with a friend or family member."

The lack of affordable housing is an issue that’s only been heightened during the pandemic as many families found themselves facing homelessness for the first time due to rising rents.

"With the pandemic and the population surges that we've been experiencing, we just haven't been able to keep up," Martinez said. "The Lakeland-Winter Haven metro area is one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country, and obviously wages just are not keeping up with the rates of housing."

Economists say the survey points to the need for expanding the voucher program, revaluating criteria, and building more affordable housing.

In a release last month, HUD says the 2024 budget will maintain services for all currently assisted families and to expand the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program to more programs.