Increasing Owner/Manager Participation in the Housing Choice Voucher Program
Family Housing Fund is committed to working with housing authorities, local government, and private partners to create meaningful access to housing for families region wide.
Family Housing Fund shares the Minneapolis City Council members’ goal of improving access to housing for families with Housing Choice Vouchers. Prohibiting discrimination by source of income is a fundamental value that we hold. The proposed ordinance will advance that value.
However, the proposed ordinance alone is not enough to expand and protect access to privately owned rental housing for families that hold Housing Choice Vouchers.
Expanding Access to Housing Choice in Minneapolis, a study by Quadel Consulting and Training (commissioned by Family Housing Fund in partnership with the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority), offers local-market informed recommendations to improve mobility for families. In the spirit of continuous improvement, the study shows that there are administrative changes that should be considered to make the Housing Choice Voucher Program work better for families and improve the partnership with rental housing owners and managers.
MPHA has shown decisive leadership in providing information and access to complete the study and in accepting the findings. They have made a commitment to implement administrative changes. The Family Housing Fund’s goal is to support them in that work, and we encourage others to do the same.
Family Housing Fund Policy Position
The concept for rent certificates for low-income families was first pitched in the 1930s by the National Association of Realtors out of concern that subsidized public housing buildings would threaten the private real estate market (Desmond, 2016). Since then, the market has changed significantly—the demand for affordable housing substantially out paces the limited government resources to build housing. Today, the public-private partnership that was suggested during the Great Depression has grown to be a major federal housing program and the primary tool to provide low-income families with choice in where they live.
The federal Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program supports about 35,000 households in Minnesota (Minnesota Housing, March 2015), ensuring that they are not one of the nearly 600,000 households that are housing cost burdened and facing related health and employment challenges (Minnesota Compass). The benefits of the HCV program to families and the market, however, are limited by the way program implementation has evolved over the last several decades.
In the past year, Family Housing Fund (FHFund) has undertaken two bodies of work to optimize the HCV program locally, as a way to get more owners/managers to participate. First, the Owners/Managers Creating Opportunity project explored why some local owners/managers engage with the HCV program and others do not. The primary takeaway from the project was a need to enhance the partnership between public housing authorities (PHAs) and the property owners/managers. Secondly, FHFund retained Quadel Consulting and Training on behalf of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) to assess their HCV program administration and identify strategies to maximize resident choice. This assessment also identified a need to develop more collaborative relationships.
The focus in both of these reports on improving the public-private partnership is not a coincidence, and it is not a need isolated to Minneapolis or even the Twin Cities region. As all PHAs consider how to support family success by getting more owners/managers to participate in the HCV program, thus expanding access to housing choice, fitting the rental assistance program into a property owners’/managers’ business must be a central strategy.
To achieve this, the first order of business for the affordable housing network is to embrace their role in the HCV collaboration and make administrative changes that reflect the value of what property owners/manager bring to the partnership: a home. In his first month of leadership at MPHA, Executive Director Greg Russ has committed to advancing some of the recommendations from the assessment prepared by Quadel, and outlining a plan for future changes. This is a critical first step.
Recognizing low-income families’ housing choice challenges, Minneapolis Council members Glidden, Warsame, and Goodman have proposed an amendment to the City’s Civil Rights Ordinance that will prohibit discrimination based on source of income. This is an important value that FHFund and affordable housing network hold: a family should be able to rent a home regardless of whether they pay rent through government assistance or income from a job.
The Council members’ and affordable housing network’s goal is to have more property owners/managers participate in the HCV program in order to expand low income families’ housing choices. And any steps that PHAs and the City take to improve access to affordable housing must include an intentional evaluative component to understand if the intervention is creating the desired change or if a course correction is necessary. However, the ordinance alone will not meet its goal because it does not help families and PHAs overcome the practical, administrative issues with the HCV program. The OMCO and Quadel reports offer a clear conclusion that improving the public-private partnership will move the system closer to this goal.
A mandate not to discriminate, without significant administrative changes first, is unlikely to establish housing choice for low-income families. PHAs, with the support of their cities, must make changes to the way they administer the HCV program, stimulating its fit and connection to the business of real estate. Once these changes are implemented, the community can codify its value of nondiscrimination by source of income.