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County speeds up rent checks for homeless vets

There are still hundreds of homeless veterans on L.A. streets, but a new county program is helping speed up the process of housing them in a tight rental market.
There are still hundreds of homeless veterans on L.A. streets, but a new county program is helping speed up the process of housing them in a tight rental market.
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L.A. County housing officials are crediting a new incentive program with getting previously reticent landlords to lease to homeless veterans in an incredibly tight rental market.

Emilio Salas, L.A. County Housing Authority's deputy executive director, said Wednesday the agency has successfully used up all of its 1,500 federal housing vouchers for homeless veterans.

Previously, housing officials had said voucher-holders were essentially wandering the streets, looking for places that would take their vouchers, known as VASH, which guarantee the federal government will pay a large portion of the veteran's rent.

Salas said a new $1.1 million program started in January, called the Veteran Incentive Program, helped turn that situation around. It basically expedites payments of a first-month's rent to landlords and in some cases, provides a security deposit for the rental.

Salas said that often makes all the difference.

"What we wanted to do was make it as simple as possible and we wanted to make it impossible for the landlord to say no," Salas said. "If they were in agreement to actually lease to a veteran, we would issue a check within twenty-four hours."

In the past, a landlord might have waited four to six weeks to get the first rent check. And that made it tough for vets with vouchers to compete with other candidates who have cash in-hand.

Under the incentive program, landlords get to keep the money even if the deal falls through.

The program also eliminated some bureaucratic rules that forced vets to get additional approval when moving between the county's 18 different districts.

Salas credits the incentive with getting the last of his voucher holders leased-up. He said the county just received another 236 federal vouchers and has vets ready to use every last one.

While city and county housing authorities have made progress recently—housing about 50 vets each month—there are 3,800 veterans still homeless in L.A. county.