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Philadelphia Housing Authority saw ‘overwhelming demand’ as it reopened a rental voucher program

PHA said "technical issues" had been fixed after the agency began accepting applications Monday.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority's headquarters on Ridge Avenue.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority's headquarters on Ridge Avenue.Read moreJake Blumgart

Residents hoping to win a coveted voucher for affordable housing struggled to file applications as the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s website briefly crashed Monday amid strong demand for a program that reopened for the first time in more than a decade.

In a statement Monday, the agency said the outage was caused by a high number of applicants. PHA says it will select 10,000 applicants at random through a lottery – 2,000 of whom will get rental subsidies immediately. The rest will be put on a waiting list for the Housing Choice Voucher program. The vouchers cover about 70% of rental costs.

The strong demand comes 12 years after PHA, the city’s largest landlord, suspended new applications for housing assistance as its total wait list grew to encompass some 100,000 households.

“Due to the overwhelming demand in the Housing Choice Waiting List application, PHA’s website experienced exceedingly high traffic that resulted in some technical issues that has since been fixed,” PHA said in the statement.

The agency is accepting applications through Feb. 5.

“It is not necessary to be among the first to apply because whether you’re among first or last will not change your chances, since applicants will be selected by lottery,” PHA said.

» READ MORE: How to apply for the newly reopened Housing Choice Voucher program in Philly

To be eligible, households must make 50% or less than the area’s median income — or $52,700 a year for a family of four in Philadelphia.

PHA provides housing for about 80,000 residents, either in public housing developments supported by rental vouchers — sometimes referred to as “Section 8″ — or other funding.

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier said she shares her “neighbors’ concern about the rocky application launch.”

“I also see the overwhelming demand for housing vouchers as further proof that Philadelphians are desperate for an affordable place to live,” Gauthier, who chairs Council’s housing committee, said in a statement. Reopening the voucher program is “an important step in combating Philly’s housing affordability crisis,” she said.

Jenna Collins, an attorney with the nonprofit Community Legal Services, said she was not surprised by the website outage given that hundreds of thousands of city residents qualify for vouchers in a city where roughly 1 in 4 live in poverty.

“We have far more households that qualify for subsidized housing. Ten thousand is nothing,” she said. “Most will never get onto a wait list that takes a decade to go through.”

PHA, which is funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, announced the new lottery system after asserting it had reduced the lengthy wait list by about 55,000 applications over the last decade.

But Collins said the total number of vouchers provided at any given time had changed little over the years, while some traditional public housing developments had been demolished.

In its 2022 annual report, the most recent available, the $371 million agency said it provides rental vouchers to about 19,500 households in total, slightly less than a decade ago. The agency has notably invested some $750 million in its Sharswood redevelopment project over the last decade, which saw midcentury apartment towers demolished and replaced with low-rise housing, a supermarket, and a new $45 million headquarters for PHA.

While the Biden administration had pushed for a radical increase in voucher funds in a spending bill last year, it ultimately won approval for only about 25,000 new households nationally.

Housing advocates have drawn attention to the city’s need for more affordable housing for decades, but the issue has worsened as rental costs surged during the pandemic and supply dwindled. The increased costs have coincided with the expiration of some decades-old affordable housing agreements with private landlords, like the University City Townhomes in West Philadelphia.

PHA said anyone experiencing technical issues can call 215-999-3102 for help.