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LA County, city, sweetening the pot for landlords to accept Section 8 applicants

Signs like these are rare in Southern California, as demand for rental units outpaces supply.
Signs like these are rare in Southern California, as demand for rental units outpaces supply.
Jen/turkeychik via Flickr Creative Commons

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A hundred landlords gathered in the San Fernando Valley this week to meet with city and county housing officials to learn more about the financial incentives available to them for accepting Section 8 housing applicants.

According to Carlos VanNatter, who directs the Section 8 program for the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA), there are currently 1,000 voucher holders who are still on the street, or in a shelter, or an otherwise impermanent housing situation.

With the vacancy rate in Los Angeles hovering at 2.7 percent according to HACLA, finding an apartment is a challenge for just about everyone these days. Soaring rent rates only add to the difficulty, especially for low income families and individuals in need of permanent housing. 

“The big piece we’re looking for is landlords,” VanNatter said, explaining that it's critical for his office to convince landlords to choose Section 8 voucher holders in what's typically a competitive applicant pool.

So the city and county housing authorities are offering a slew of incentives to participating landlords. Financial perks include a guaranteed damage mitigation fund, which covers all maintenance issues after a Section 8 tenant moves out. They’ll also offer holding fees to landlords to reserve an apartment while voucher holders are getting ready to move in. And, they’ll take care of the security deposit.

“We want to lower the landlords’ risk for taking them,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who attended the Valley event this week.

VanNatter said the landlords in attendance this week liked the sound of those perks. 

One longtime landlord and property manager, Noemi Mota, spoke at the event to tell other landlords about her experience housing Section 8 applicants. 

“We’ve been doing Section 8 for the last 15 years,” Mota said, referring to her family’s property management business. “And we’ve been very happy with the tenants we receive from that program.”

“I have my good and bad inside of Section 8, and outside of it. What I find with Section 8 tenants is that they’re just like everyone else. They’re hard working families who are looking for a second chance.”

Mota said she’s heard mixed feelings from landlords. “Some of them don’t even want to hear it sometimes because they’ve heard bad things about tenants having problems.”

“But with time, I’ve won all of them over except one.”

But even landlords who want to help the homeless community have to make a choice between charity and income. The maximum allowance for a Section 8 voucher is $1,600, so, as Mota explained, if a two bedroom apartment rents for $2,100 based on the area’s average, the landlord wouldn’t have much of an incentive to accept a $1600 voucher, even with the perks from the county.

That dollar amount is calculated by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department based on what's called "fair market rent" (FMR).

Ehren Dohler, coordinator of the Housing Choice Voucher Funding Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that calculation is based on an entire metropolitan area, so the FMR is the same across Los Angeles County.

“It’s kind of a blunt tool,” Dohler said. “It doesn’t capture the fluctuation of rent in different areas. So vouchers might pay too much in one neighborhood, and too little in others.”

L.A’s problem is unique, he explained, due to scarce availability and steadily climbing rent prices.

By turning to landlords, housing authorities hope to boost the success of the voucher program and secure housing for the homeless as it becomes available.

 “They’re an integral part of housing the homeless. There’s no question,” Kuehl said. “[The county] can build and build and build, but we’ll never build enough units.”

Landlords interested in joining Section 8 housing efforts can find more information at www.hacola.org and www.hacla.org