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Sven Berg: Housing vouchers explained

After a year-and-a-half reporting on homelessness in Boise, I thought I had it figured out.

You know what comes next. Turns out, my understanding of housing vouchers was way off-base. I wasn't surprised, because I've come to understand that homelessness and all the government programs that are in place to address it might be as complicated as Idaho water.

Well, the nice people at the Boise City-Ada County Housing Authority were patient enough to walk me through exactly what vouchers are and how they work. I originally included them in the package for today's Statesman story on the post-Cooper Court era of homelessness in Boise, but the editors said it was too wonky and took up too much space.

So, if you really want to know how the voucher program works, here is the best explanation I've got:

Housing choice vouchers are payments from local housing authorities that help low-income tenants pay rent.

The housing authorities receive money for vouchers from the federal government. For example, the Boise City-Ada County Housing Authority administers about 2,000 vouchers worth between $11 million and $12 million each year.

The government establishes Fair Market Rent — the amount it believes tenants can expect to pay for reasonable housing and utilities in a certain geographical area. Housing authorities in turn set what's known as a Payment Standard, which equals 90-110 percent of the federal government's Fair Market Rent for each housing type in that area.

Households that receive vouchers are required to pay 30 percent of their adjusted income — gross income minus eligible expenses such as childcare and out-of-pocket medical bills — on rent. The voucher covers the rest of the Payment Standard.

Vouchers’ dollar values vary by income and the number of people in a household. The less voucher recipients earn, the more the voucher is worth. Some households have no income. In these cases, vouchers cover 100 percent of the rent and tenant-paid utilities, which together cannot exceed the area’s Payment Standard.

Payment Standard set by Boise City-Ada County Housing Authority

Studio: $505 (105 percent of Fair Market Rent)

1 bedroom: $671 (110 percent)

2 bedroom: $819 (105 percent)

3 bedroom: $1129 (100 percent)

4 bedroom: $1337 (100 percent)

5 bedroom: $1537 (100 percent)

6 bedroom: $1738 (100 percent)

Source: Boise City-Ada County Housing Authority

Maximum gross annual income a household can receive and qualify for a housing choice voucher

1 person: $21,150

2 people: $24,150

3 people: $27,150

4 people: $30,150

5 people: $32,600

6 people: $35,000

7 people: $37,400

8 people: $39,800

Source: Boise City-Ada County Housing Authority

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