Housing crisis hits deep in Nevada County | SierraSun.com

Housing crisis hits deep in Nevada County

Matthew Pera
mpera@theunion.com

In August 2015, Shawna Crutchfield's landlords notified her that they'd soon be selling the house she was renting and she'd have to move out, leaving the single mom and her three children with "nowhere to go," she said.

The Crutchfields bounced around between the homes of a few friends while Shawna searched for a new rental she could afford — all the while balancing school schedules for her children and trying to hold down a job. But she didn't have any luck with the local rental market.

The rental Crutchfield was evicted from had been highly affordable, she said. But, years after she'd begun renting there, she was facing a much higher-priced market. Her income was low due to the time constraints of raising three children on her own.

It wasn't long before she began staying at Hospitality House, Grass Valley's emergency homeless shelter. There, she said, she found some much-needed help.

“I just want someplace stable to raise my kids in for the next 10 years. I want to be able to give them that.”

— Shawna Crutchfield

Besides providing the family with food and temporary shelter, Hospitality House helped Crutchfield find a job that fit with her busy schedule. She began working at the Bread & Roses Thrift Center in Grass Valley, and still maintains her position there today. The store, which is owned by Hospitality House, provides extra income for the homeless shelter and is part of its "retail job training" pilot program, helping clients gain practical skills they can use in the job market.

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After a short stay at Hospitality House, Crutchfield moved to the Salvation Army's Booth Family Center in Grass Valley, which typically provides families with a room of their own for up to six months. Crutchfield, who now has four kids, has lived there since November 2016.

She is still unable to find a rental, she said.

In March, Crutchfield was approved for a Housing Choice voucher — sometimes called a "Section 8" voucher — which would give her $1,700 per month in rental assistance. The voucher gave her a short window of time to sign a lease before it expired.

A 'golden ticket'

Crutchfield called the voucher her "golden ticket." She said she looked tirelessly for a rental — checking the listings on Craigslist at least twice per day.

"I just want someplace stable to raise my kids in for the next 10 years," she said. "I want to be able to give them that."

But each time she contacted a landlord, she said the response always seems the same.

"As soon as I throw out that I have a Section 8 voucher, they are immediately deterred by that," she said. "They just don't want to deal with it."

Gail Allen, chief financial officer for the Regional Housing Authority of Sutter and Nevada counties — the local agency in charge of the federally funded voucher program — said it's not uncommon for prospective tenants to struggle with finding a rental that accepts a Housing Choice voucher.

"Because the market is doing well, and because the landlords can choose from multiple people, it may be more difficult for a Section 8 person," she said.

Allen said there are also times when landlords go above and beyond to help out prospective tenants with vouchers. But in an area like Nevada County, where rental prices are high, Section 8 housing is hard to find.

Crutchfield said she's considered moving to another county, but prefers to stay in the area.

"I'd like to stay here," she said. "My kids are pretty rooted here, and it's home."

Missed opportunity?

Crutchfield was running up on the deadline to redeem her voucher when the Housing Authority announced on Aug. 4 that all vouchers not currently in use are being temporarily suspended.

The Housing Authority receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide Housing Choice vouchers to residents of Nevada, Sutter, Yuba, and Colusa counties. It is allowed to provide a maximum of 1,644 vouchers at any given time, and often has a years-long waiting list for applicants hoping for rental assistance.

But in recent years, the Housing Authority's funding from HUD has diminished. This year, the funding was reduced more than ever before, according to Allen.

"There is not enough HUD funding to cover the people that are currently in the program. As of Aug. 4, we had to pull all the vouchers for people that are out there looking," Allen said.

The Regional Housing Authority has had to suspend vouchers three times in the past decade due to budget shortfalls, according to the organization's executive director, Gustavo Becerra.

Federal funding for the Housing Authority is renewed every year in January, and Becerra said the organization will begin issuing vouchers again when new funding is available.

The Housing Authority, he said, will give priority to those who previously had their vouchers pulled when they are again issued.

The vouchers that were suspended may be renewed sooner than January if a large number of tenants who are currently in the program drop out, Becerra said.

But for now, Crutchfield and her four kids — ages 10, six, four and one — are back to square one — at least until their voucher is renewed.

Nancy Baglietto, Hospitality House's executive director, said Crutchfield's situation highlights California's affordable housing crisis as a whole.

"Along the continuum of care, from emergency shelter to permanent housing, there are gaps in resources, with the lack of affordable housing being the largest," Baglietto said. "For those living paycheck to paycheck, one personal setback can lead to homelessness."

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