The Owners/Managers Creating Opportunity Project is a strategic effort of the Family Housing Fund to increase landlord participation in the Housing Choice Voucher Program across the seven-county metropolitan area, especially in areas with low rates of poverty and high quality schools, in order to expand housing choice for low-income and working families. The Housing Choice Voucher program is one of the federal government’s major initiatives to serve very low-income families and is one of the more flexible resources communities have to meet unique affordable housing needs in their jurisdictions. The Owners/Managers Creating Opportunity project addresses a critical bottleneck in the complex process of a family utilizing a voucher: finding an owner of a unit that fits their needs that will accept it.
The initial phase of the Owners/Managers Creating Opportunity project, which took place from January to February 2016, consisted of a data collection process to understand the experience of larger owner/managers who operate properties in low poverty areas with the Housing Choice Voucher program. It also included conversations with public and private stakeholders to understand what is currently being done to educate owners, expand participation, and what gaps might be filled by the Owners/Managers Creating Opportunity project in Phase II.
The owners/managers who participated in the interviews and focus groups expressed a deep desire to see the Housing Choice Voucher Program succeed. Many of them conveyed heartfelt accounts of having seen the program serve as a bridge out of poverty for working families. To enable the Housing Choice Voucher program to best serve families, families must have access to a variety of housing choices; in order to provide choice, owners of properties across the region must participate in the program. This research highlights three areas in which the Family Housing Fund and its partners can influence the number of owners that participate in the program:
Partnership: Above all else, Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) must authentically partner with property owners/managers. PHA programming cannot succeed without the participation of property owners/managers throughout the region.
Discretionary Policies: While HUD sets most of the Housing Choice Voucher program requirements, PHAs have some discretion on local administration of the program. The data collected through the Owners/Managers Creating Opportunity project indicates that there are two areas of discretion that are particularly important to cultivating positive relationships with the landlords and creating choice for families.
- Inspections: While inspections are an important necessary part of providing residents with clean, safe place to live, there are opportunities to work with owners/managers to improve the process. One solution is to provide the inspection criteria ahead of the actual inspection. Giving owners/managers a sense of what they will be judged on would allow them to be even more prepared and would likely decrease the rate of failure and re-inspection, thus saving owners and inspectors time and money.
Several owners/managers also proposed decreasing the frequency of inspections for managers with a proven track record of success. New HUD regulations give PHAs the discretion to inspect every year or every two years. Less frequent inspections could be a powerful incentive for improving property management, while making participation in the program less burdensome.
- Exception Rents: When each PHA sets its own rent payment standards they must balance the number of families they can reasonable serve with the funds available from HUD because the local program administration is bound both by a maximum caseload and a capped federal reimbursement. If rent payment standards are low to maximize the number of people served, voucher holders may not be able to rent in certain areas where there is a slightly higher fair market rent, even if the owner/manager were willing to accept the voucher. This limits locational choice for families. In order to create more opportunity for choice for families, some PHAs have defined areas with exception rents within their jurisdiction—meaning if a voucher holder would like to rent a unit in that area, the PHA payment standard is slightly higher. In addition to providing choice for families, matching the payment standards to the fair market rent in the area acknowledges the value of owners/managers business.
Resident accountability: Owners/managers want to know that residents will be held accountable. Following best practices of agencies, like not paying out vouchers at a new unit until damages are paid to the previous owner/manager, will reassure those owners/managers that there are incentives for responsible resident behavior.
The Family Housing Fund wishes to thank those who generously shared their time and expertise. The Family Housing Fund is especially grateful to the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, including Mary Rippe, President; Lisa Marvin, Board Chair; Todd Liljenquest, Director of Government Relations; and Marty McDonough, Director of Municipal Affairs.