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Amid Southern California's housing crunch, Santa Ana housing program flooded with applicants

Everyone agrees housing has gotten too expensive in Los Angeles, but how to solve the problem? On that, there’s a lot less consensus.
File photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
Southern California's housing crisis means more people than ever are looking for government subsidized rentals.

In a sign of the region's critical dearth of housing for the working poor, so many people flooded Santa Ana's website when it re-opened its Section 8 voucher wait list last week that the system crashed.

"We broke the Internet," said Judson Brown, operations supervisor at the Santa Ana Housing Authority. 

The site was back up after 53 minutes, and still managed to take 4,097 applications in the first 18 hours alone.

When the list closes again on July 30, the housing authority will use a lottery system to pick 5,000 names to add to the wait list for a rent voucher.

That process, Brown said, ensures fairness and orderliness, while limiting the wait list to a number that can realistically be served in the next few years. The program, which is federally funded, simply doesn't receive enough resources to help all who qualify, Brown said.

Section 8 vouchers, which pay a portion of a low-income person's rent, depending on their need, are potentially a lifelong benefit. In Santa Ana, only about eight to 10 of the city's 2,700 vouchers open up each month as voucher holders pass away, start earning too much money to qualify, or break the rules and are evicted from the program.

When Santa Ana last opened its wait list in 2007, it capped the list to 10,000 applicants. The city of Los Angeles has 8,000 people on its wait list — a number that's been whittled down from 100,000 in the decade since 2005, when the housing authority last took new applications. Los Angeles County's wait list closed in 2010 and has 43,000 people on it.

"Congress receives reports on how many families are waiting on our waiting lists," Brown said. "If I were to receive that information as a Representative, that would communicate to me that there's a significant housing need out there."

Meanwhile, homeless populations in Los Angeles and Orange County have grown. A January census found a 5 percent increase in Orange County since 2013. Los Angeles County saw a 12 percent jump over the same period.

Both counties have thrown extra resources towards housing homeless veterans, part of a nationwide push to end veterans homelessness by the end of the year.  To that end, Santa Ana said it'll keep its wait list open to veterans beyond the July 30 general deadline.