COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Central Ohioans strapped for cash can apply for a housing voucher to lessen the burden of monthly rental payments – but are limited when it comes to choosing a place to live.

While about 13,000 Franklin County residents use a Section 8 federally funded housing voucher to lessen the burden of monthly rental payments, nearly double – about 25,000 central Ohioans – remain in the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority’s lottery system where they await a determination of whether they’re eligible to receive a voucher, according to Justin Davis, vice president of CMHA’s Housing Choice Voucher Program.

To be eligible for a voucher, which provides tenants a capped amount of money toward rent, Davis said CMHA helps families who make 30 percent or less of the area median income but can assist those making 50 percent or sometimes 80 percent of the AMI. In Columbus, the median household income sits just under $55,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We typically start looking at an individual who is low income, 30 percent AMI – or making $17,000 or less,” Davis said.

If an applicant is determined eligible for a voucher, Davis said they’ll be added to a wait list, and in a process that could take up to one or two years, the applicant will receive a voucher.

According to CMHA’s website, vouchers reimburse a tenant with a set amount of rent. For voucher holders searching for a one-bedroom unit, the highest the voucher can cover is $912, and for a two-bedroom, the voucher pays up to $1,135.

With an increasingly expensive housing market, the payment caps often present challenges for low-income tenants seeking safe, affordable housing, according to Melissa Benson, managing attorney of the Legal Aid Society of Columbus’ housing team.

“Housing vouchers are one way of making those properties more available,” Benson said. “The problem is there are a finite number of vouchers available and there’s a significant need for subsidies, but we don’t have enough funding available to receive subsidies.”

The maximum number of vouchers that CMHA is able to disseminate is 14,759, and the gap between the number of vouchers available and residents who receive them is largely due to a lack of landlords who agree to provide affordable housing units, Davis said.

“I think there’s enough vouchers to meet the demand; the issue is not enough landlords,” he said. “We’re doing all we can to entice them to come into this program.”

Some landlords in central Ohio are reluctant to join the Housing Choice Voucher Program, Benson said, because adhering to CMHA’s payment caps often means they’re reducing prices they normally would charge for rent.

To encourage landlords in central Ohio to keep rental prices affordable for voucher holders, Davis said CMHA implemented an incentive program that provides property managers up to $500 for one- and two-bedroom units and $750 for units with three or more bedrooms to cover the cost of security deposits.

As a result of the incentive program, Davis said CMHA saw about 300 new landlords – and consequently 2,600 tenants – added to the housing voucher program.

“We can issue the vouchers,” Davis said. “We just need the landlords to accept them so our tenants can move in.”

To apply for a housing voucher, visit CMHA’s website.