When Rebecca Gutierrez learned her rent was going to increase by 300 percent, she was terrified. Rebecca shares her apartment, which is subsidized with a Section 8 voucher, with her five children and one granddaughter. She raised her children in the small but warm space, and every inch of wall is covered with photos of birthdays and graduations. If the family lost the apartment, they would have nowhere else to go.
“I felt like crying. I thought ‘What am I going to do?'”
The federal government provides rent subsidies to low-income families through the Section 8 program, allowing them to pay about 30 percent of their income for rent while the local housing authority pays the balance. Landlords in the Section 8 program can, periodically, raise rents. To minimize the harm to tenants, federal law requires housing authorities to increase their subsidy. But after Rebecca’s landlord raised her rent, the housing authority informed her that she would be responsible for the increased rent until her annual re-examination—leaving her to pay the tremendous increase for several months.
When Rebecca went to the housing authority to ask for help, she was handed a list of local shelters.
“She told me that the owner was entitled to evict me and my kids if I didn’t come up with the rent,” Rebecca said. “If I don’t have the money to pay the rent then I’m going to be homeless.”
After Rebecca contacted NLSLA, attorney Lauren Holzer quickly stepped in to help her family, as well as several other families in her building who were in the same situation. But the organization realized that the only way to get the housing authority to change its policy and prevent homelessness for others who depend on Section 8 was to file a lawsuit.
“Homelessness is more than just losing your home. A lot of the families we see who experience homelessness have a disruption of healthcare, a disruption of education for their children, and a disruption of social relationships,” Lauren said. “It has far-reaching effects beyond just losing an apartment.”