Priscilla Wakefield
Priscilla Wakefield was unable to find an apartment in Wichita with her housing choice voucher last year before it expired. (Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)

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This story idea came from The Wichita Beacon’s Community Engagement Bureau. Learn more about it here.

Editor’s note: We updated this story on May 16 to include additional information from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


Norman Doll started looking for a new apartment last year. 

Doll has advanced heart disease, agoraphobia and spotty access to a car. After spending years traveling nearly 22 miles round-trip from south Wichita to his doctor’s office north of Kellogg Avenue, he decided it was time to move closer. 

But when he started calling apartments in the spring of 2021, one thing kept holding him back: his housing choice voucher, which is federal rent assistance for low-income residents. 

“Every place we contacted, nobody was accepting Section 8 vouchers,” Doll said. 

The city of Wichita administers about 3,000 housing choice vouchers, also known as Section 8. In March, about 92% were being used to lease apartments. But some Section 8 tenants say that they’re struggling to find housing as rents rise in Wichita, following nationwide trends, or landlords won’t accept their vouchers as a form of payment. 

“There’s always more people with Section 8 voucher approval than there are places to live that accept Section 8,” said Lyndsay Stauble, a real estate agent in Wichita. 

But Matt Mercer, Section 8 program coordinator for the city of Wichita, said he hasn’t noticed issues with voucher holders finding a place to live or being priced out. 

“In general, I don’t think right now it’s a big issue because of rent prices,” Mercer said.

Norman Doll is searching for a place to live in Wichita with his housing choice voucher but struggling to find an apartment. (Courtesy of Norman Doll)

Trying to keep pace with rising rents

Doll first enrolled in the housing choice voucher in 1999, a few years after he started receiving disability insurance for agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He said the voucher allows him to rent a one-bedroom apartment that costs no more than $625 a month. 

“That really keeps you in a very limited area,” Doll said. 

Median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Wichita is currently $721, according to ApartmentList.com. Rent prices in Wichita rose over 11% since last April, according to a study by ApartmentList.com.

But the housing voucher program isn’t keeping pace with the rising rents. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sets the rental rates for the voucher program. The agency decreased the amount Wichita voucher holders can spend on rent from 2021 to 2022; voucher holders can spend up to $635 on a one-bedroom apartment. Since 2020, the rents HUD sets for voucher holders in Wichita have increased by barely 1%. An agency spokesperson said in an email to The Wichita Beacon that the rates are set based on available data, which can lag a few years behind current rental costs.

“History shows that the government is often slow to adjust the (fair-market rents) for changes in actual rents,” Kirk McClure, professor emeritus at the University of Kansas who studies housing, wrote in an email to The Beacon. 

Local housing authorities can set tenant rent between 90% and 110% of the fair-market rent from HUD. In 2022, the Wichita Housing Authority boosted rents up to 110% to try to account for HUD’s decrease, Mercer said.  

“We were basically not quite able to make up the loss that we had in the lowered fair-market rent by raising our payment standard,” Mercer said.

Rising rental prices and housing prices are making housing hard to find for everyone right now, Stauble said. 

So for people with Section 8 vouchers, Stauble said “it’s even tougher for them to find affordable housing.”

Wichita landlords hesitant to accept Section 8

Even if he finds an apartment within his $625 budget, many landlords don’t take the Section 8 voucher, Doll said. 

It’s a problem other voucher holders have experienced, said Priscilla Wakefield, who received a Section 8 voucher this spring. Wakefield also received a voucher last year, but it expired before she could find an apartment to rent. The Wichita Housing Authority gives voucher holders 120 days to find an apartment.  

“Places that I want, they don’t accept Section 8,” Wakefield said.

Wakefield estimated that she called between 100 and 150 apartment or housing options. 

She said landlords seemed to think that the Section 8 process was a hassle. The housing authority or HUD have to inspect apartments that take housing vouchers.

Bill Vann owns and rents about 12 Section 8 properties in northeast Wichita. He said that, with the current affordable housing shortage, landlords can turn Section 8 renters away in favor of someone else. 

“Why would I rent to this person over here who, in my assumption, is going to bring other bad elements?” Vann said. “Which is another misnomer because some people just fall through the cracks and Section 8 is a great safety net for them. But the mindset is that bad tenants don’t take care of your property.” 

Finding private landlords was also an obstacle for nonprofit agencies who were helping clients find a use for their emergency housing vouchers, The Beacon previously reported. These vouchers are similar to Section 8 vouchers but are specifically for people experiencing homelessness or fleeing domestic violence.   

Private landlords turning away tenants with housing vouchers is so common that at least seven states outlawed it as a source of income discrimination.

The Beacon reached out to multiple apartment complexes in Wichita, including Twin Rivers Apartments, to ask why they do not accept vouchers. Oklahoma City-based Eucalyptus Real Estate, which owns Twin Rivers, was the only landlord to respond.

“The complexities of providing Section 8 housing brings with it the need for robust compliance, inspections and paperwork,” Megan McGinnis, president of Eucalyptus Real Estate, wrote in an email to The Beacon. “Many companies who provide Section 8 are set up with internal compliance departments. Our company is not.”

But Mercer said that landlords’ reluctance to accept the vouchers can also be based on the history of the renter. 

“They could have an issue with an eviction or something, or an outstanding debt that wouldn’t let a landlord rent to them based on their policies,” Mercer said.

Wakefield experienced this, too. She’s been evicted from an apartment in the past. 

Section 8 use concentrated in center of Wichita

Doll said one of the biggest challenges he faces is finding housing where he wants to live.

Right now, Doll has access to a car. But that will change in the future, he said.

“We want to get closer to my doctors, which are at St. Francis and over near Wesley (Hospital),” Doll said. “The only apartments we can find are at Topeka and Market Street.” 

Doll said he has safety concerns about this area.  

Vouchers provided by the Wichita Housing Authority can be used in Sedgwick, Butler and Harvey counties. Despite this, the majority of vouchers are used in ZIP codes near the center of Wichita, according to data provided by the city. Only 1.2% of all vouchers are used outside of Sedgwick County. 

The area with the most vouchers used is 67214, which is Sedgwick County’s only majority-minority ZIP code.

“It’s centralized, more toward the housing that is older and not necessarily as updated and quote-unquote nice as some of those higher-end apartment complexes or homes that are newer and more updated,” Stauble said.

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Hack covers local government for The Wichita Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @CeliaHack.