For applicants on the city and county housing choice vouchers waitlists, the average wait time is four years. And if you’re trying to get on the list, the wait time could be even longer.

The main causes? A lack of vouchers, limited public housing authority staff, lack of affordable housing and limited landlords willing to accept those vouchers. Increased demand for affordable housing has left families struggling not only to find a home but also to get on the housing choice vouchers waitlist. 

About 5,000 people are on a waitlist for housing assistance in Fort Worth out of 20,000 applications. The list opened in 2021 for four days. But another 133 who still need vouchers remain from the 2017 waitlist. 

How to get housing assistance:

Because most housing choice vouchers waitlist are currently closed for the foreseeable future, here are other ways to find assistance in Fort Worth and Tarrant County:

  1. Fort Worth Housing Solutions has partnered with a number of private developers to build or acquire mixed-income properties throughout the city that have units reserved for affordable housing. You can find a list here.
  2. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has an interactive map that highlights available resources in a person’s vicinity. You can check out here

In Tarrant County, the county’s housing assistance office received 15,000 applications during the five-day period it was open in 2017. A remaining 7,278 families have yet to be served. 

The Tarrant County Housing Assistance waitlist is expected to be closed through at least 2024. Fort Worth Housing Solutions’ waitlist is not expected to accept new applications for a few years as well, said Mary-Margaret Lemons, president of Fort Worth Housing Solutions.

Reopening of the waitlist depends on how quickly people move off of it, she said.

“This is a nationwide issue. This is not Tarrant County, in Texas. Anywhere you go in the country, especially in large metropolitan areas, they’re going to have long wait lists,” Tarrant County Housing Assistance Director Wayne E. Pollard said. 

The Tarrant County Housing Assistance office processes every application it receives. Applicants are responsible for keeping their contact information up to the date. Over the past five years, about 2,500 families have been housed, said Pollard.

In Fort Worth, a lottery system selects a limited number of applicants from the pool to receive vouchers. 

How are families on Tarrant County Housing Assistance Office’s Housing Choice Voucher waitlist processed?

  1. Applicants fail to respond to a purge letter, which asks them if they still need housing assistance. They are then removed from the waitlist. 
  2. Applicants fail to attend the Update Briefing to complete a full application. If they fail to show up after two attempts, they are removed from the waitlist.
  3. Applicants state they are no longer interested in housing. 
  4. Applicants are not eligible for the program because of a criminal background, over-income, debt owed to a housing authority, etc. 
  5. Applicants are eligible and housed or unable to find a unit. 

Source: Tarrant County Housing Assistance Office

The number of applicants on the Tarrant County waitlist increases on an annual basis, which Pollard attributes to an increased demand for housing. Every time a housing authority opens a waitlist, more people apply. 

Applicants from all over the United States can apply to any open waitlist, which means multiple adults in the same household may be applying for the program. 

“What we do is have a local preference. Each housing authority is different. Generally speaking, we give a local preference first for the Tarrant County residents,” Pollard said.

In the city of Fort Worth, the acceptance rate for housing vouchers from landlords is 22%, according to the city of Fort Worth. In lower-income areas, that rate drops to 17%. 

Both Tarrant County and Fort Worth housing services said the U.S. Housing and Urban Development department has not been issuing regular housing vouchers. The majority of the issued vouchers from HUD have been for those considered chronically homeless — limiting who can qualify for them. 

The county housing office applies for vouchers when the opportunity arises, Pollard said. On average, the office can receive up to 175 new vouchers annually.

Fort Worth Housing Solutions can maintain about 5,000 vouchers based on the given HUD budget, despite having about 6,400 vouchers available during this most recent round, Lemons said.

The rising rental market cost means the housing authority pays more per voucher, which dramatically increases their unit cost — and that means fewer vouchers issued, Lemons said.  

“I talked to a head official here in the Fort Worth office a couple of years ago to ask if he could remember (when regular housing vouchers were allocated) and he thought it was 1996 the last time they did any type of fair share allocation,” she said.

Public housing authorities are working with local partners to create more affordable housing to meet that demand. On June 14, the Fort Worth City Council approved $20 million worth of affordable housing units for the chronically homeless. 

While this will help address housing needs for a specific population, Lemons said mixed affordable options is key. 

“Fort Worth is unique and different from Tarrant County, because we knew that the federal government wasn’t ever going to be the only answer to solving the affordable housing problem. And so we started developing tax credit properties and other types of affordable housing within the community to offer more units,” she said.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on June 21, 2022 to better clarify the city and county public housing authorities. Mary-Margaret Lemons is the president of Fort Worth Housing Solutions. Fort Worth Housing Solutions partners with private developers to build or acquire mixed-income properties in Fort Worth. The $20-million approved affordable housing units are permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless.

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at sandra.sadek@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter at @ssadek19. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Sandra Sadek

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Houston, she graduated from Texas State University where she studied journalism and international...