Effort to tighten up Section 8 program

You can inherit many things from your family — like jewelry, a car, or maybe even a house. But what if you could inherit money from the government to help pay for rent?

State public housing officials want to crack down on people who abuse the Section 8 program.

Currently, there’s nothing in the state law that prevents people from passing a Section 8 voucher down to their son or daughter, and that’s why it takes a long time to get off the waiting list.

Section 8 is basically free money from the government for low-income residents to help pay for their rent.

The price of paradise is not cheap. Many people in Hawaii don’t own their own house. And many qualify to get federal help, but there’s only so much money to go around.

The state gets $25 million a year in federal money for the Section 8 program, which equals to about 2000 vouchers for Hawaii.

“As is right now, people can have family members and when they don’t need that Section 8 voucher, the one that’s living with them inherits it,” said Hawaii Public Housing Authority Executive Director Hakim Ouansafi.

At the urging of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, the House and Senate introduced matching bills, which aim to change the state law, so that once the last original household member moves away, passes away, or no longer needs the Section 8 voucher, it’ll have to be returned to the state.

It would, however, allow the surviving children to keep the voucher until the last one turns 21, then they would have to give it back.

“To qualify for that voucher, you have to stay within a certain low income, so there is no incentive for the son or daughter to go and get a better job,” Ouansafi said.

The state knows of at least 50 cases of people inheriting vouchers, and the longest someone or someone’s family has had a voucher is 34 years.

“It was not meant to be an inheritance for life. It’s taxpayers money and we just want to make sure that it goes to the appropriate people,” Ouansafi said.

Both bills passed out of committee on Monday, despite having a few people testify in opposition.

“We had people who said it’s not fair, that if my family member has it then I can go and get it, why not?” Ouansafi said.

There are currently 1,800 people on the waiting list to get Section 8 vouchers. So many, that the state stopped accepting new applications back in 2006.

A Section 8 voucher allows you to rent a house or apartment in any neighborhood, as long as the landlord allows Section 8, and the state picks up most of the tab.

People with vouchers receive anywhere from $600 to $2,400 per month for rent.

“We believe you don’t need to have your father voucher holder to pass it on to you. You wait in line like everybody else and when it’s your turn you’ll get it,” Ouansafi.

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