Apr 30, 2019

Expanding Opportunities for Housing Choice Voucher Households

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, originally launched as the Section 8 program in 1974, assists households earning less than half of the area median income to secure affordable housing in the private market. While just one in four eligible U.S. households receive rental assistance, those fortunate enough to secure a Housing Choice Voucher pay 30% of their income toward rent and the voucher covers the balance. The HCV program served 2.2 million U.S. households in 2017, and is administered in Twin Cities jurisdictions by 10 different housing authorities and similar agencies (PHAs).

Participation in the HCV program is voluntary for rental property owners and managers in most U.S. jurisdictions and varies widely across the Twin Cities. While many HCV households find rent-eligible units in their desired community, “No Section 8” remains a common feature of rental listings. As a result, HCV participation remains concentrated in a few neighborhoods in the Twin Cities region.   It’s important to understand the property owner’s perspective about the HCV program.

  • Especially for smaller owners and first-time participants, the contracting and inspection processes require additional time and effort.
  • Low vacancy rates tend to reduce owner and manager participation, as applicants without a rental subsidy are often able to lease up faster than those using an HCV.
  • Perceptions and misperceptions are another factor identified in recent HUD-sponsored evaluations of private owner/manager participation.

Despite these challenges, a number of strategies are effective in increasing HCV acceptance by private Twin Cities rental owners and managers. Through our Owners and Managers Creating Opportunity initiative, Family Housing Fund invested in an evaluation of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s HCV program by a national consultant, and MPHA has since implemented most of the recommendations. These improvements were intended to improve property owner experience with the HCV program and included:

  • Extending housing search times
  • Same-day approval for passed inspections
  • Prorating rent to begin the same day the owner-PHA contract is approved
  • Issuing vouchers on the same day the household attends the PHA’s informative session on the program, which is a household’s last eligibility requirement
  • Streamlining voucher portability
  • Improving PHA customer service and communication for owners and managers

In addition, MPHA and several other Twin Cities PHAs have hired new staff to focus on recruitment and retention of owners and managers, and to gather and implement owners’ suggestions to expedite and improve inspection, payment, and administrative processes. Some are developing specific rent eligibility limits that are more refined to match the local market instead of relying on the regional market context.  New risk mitigation programs such as Beyond Backgrounds offer reimbursement for certain losses exceeding the damage deposit. These programs often feature a landlord liaison to help owners and managers address concerns during the tenancy, and the funds themselves are rarely needed.

Family Housing Fund is launching a new strategy to expand access to homes throughout the region for households using Housing Choice Vouchers. Through dialogue with leadership in private industry, PHAs, and others, we have developed an Owner/Manager Outreach position at HousingLink that will:

  • Connect with and recruit private owners and managers to participate, including collaboration with the Minnesota Multi Housing Association to engage its members. The position will also gather constructive feedback to share with Twin Cities PHAs.
  • Build close working relationships with PHAs, partner on shared outreach objectives, and help to improve the owner / manager experience through improvements within and across agencies.
  • Develop regional data and analysis of owner / manager acceptance of HCVs in order to support targeted outreach, evaluation of various efforts, and inform additional strategies.

Please join us in supporting this important work to increase quality affordable housing opportunities across our region:

  • HousingLink has posted the new position. Please share this opportunity with qualified applicants.
  • If you are a rental property owner or manager, please learn more about the Housing Choice Voucher program and how you can provide a crucial affordable housing opportunity in your community.
  • Could you or your organization be doing more to encourage owners and managers to provide affordable housing opportunities by accepting rental subsidies? Family Housing Fund staff are available to help you brainstorm or design a stronger role in this work. We would love to hear from you.

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