New Evidence Matters Focuses on Landlords and Vouchers

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) Winter 2019 issue of Evidence Matters focuses on landlords and their role in the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program. The issue has three articles which provide insight into different aspects of landlord behavior and landlord retention. The first article offers an overview of the HCV program; provides a description of the nation’s rental units and its landlords; provides a broad overview of recent research on landlords; provides an overview of research on the impacts of low landlord participation; and offers strategies to increase landlord participation. The second article, again, discusses research on landlords and voucher acceptance. The third article discusses strategies that two PHAs are using to incentivize landlord participation.

Landlords: Critical Participants in the Housing Choice Voucher Program

In addition to offering an overview of the HCV program, the state of the nation’s rental units, and research on the HCV program, this article provides strategies to increase landlord participation. The first strategy mentioned is enhanced outreach efforts to landlords. This is achieved through landlord liaisons that cultivate relationships between agencies and landlords. A second strategy is employing PHA-led training sessions and continuing education to support landlords and equip them with the skills to successfully participate in the HCV program. A third strategy is establishing a hotline for landlord questions. Two strategies employing recently implemented regulatory provisions include streamlining inspections by taking advantage of a provision implemented in the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016 (HOTMA) and by setting higher payment standards by switching to Small Area Fair Market Rents (FMRs).

Additional strategies include devoting funds to reimburse landlords for costs related to renting to voucher holders; extending program participant search times; providing search assistance; improving lists of available units to include more high-opportunity neighborhoods; offering free listing services for landlords; prescreening potential tenants who have received counseling; and providing staff assistance in completing paperwork.

HUD-Sponsored Research Sheds New Light on HCV Landlords

The second article focuses on two recent research papers on landlord behaviors. The first paper discusses research–conducted by the Urban Institute and sponsored by HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research–which used paired testing at five sites (Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Newark, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.) to evaluate voucher acceptance by landlords. The study found that it was exceedingly difficult for voucher program participants to successfully use their voucher and that this was particularly true in areas of opportunity of where there was a lack of source of income discrimination laws.

The second paper that the article discusses helps to explain landlord behavior. Through extensive landlord interviews in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Dallas and other observations, the researchers from the Poverty and Inequality Research Lab at Johns Hopkins University found out why landlords did or did not want to participate in the program and what they liked or disliked about the program. They found that landlords are attracted to the stability and certainty that the HCV program provides and are attracted to the idea of “doing good” by participating in the program. Complaints about the program include the amount of rent they were receiving (in some markets they felt it was below the market rate), the perceived “quality” of the tenant, and their interactions with PHAs (especially regarding the inspections process).

PHAs Encourage Landlord Participation with Incentives

This article details the work that Marin Housing Authority in California and Cambridge Housing Authority in Massachusetts do to incentivize landlord participation. The Marin Housing Authority convened a working group of local officials to develop a program called the Landlord Participation Program. The working group identified three barriers for program participants, which include lack of security deposits, tenant vacancy burdens, and the negative perception of voucher holders. To combat these problems, the program offers up to $2,500 for security deposits, vacancy loss coverage up to the payment standard for landlords who commit to house future voucher holders, and loss mitigation payments of up to $3,000. The Marin Housing Authority also provides other services to landlords.

The Cambridge Housing Authority, using its regulatory flexibilities as a Moving to Work agency, authorizes vacancy and damage payments to landlords who agree to rent to voucher holders. Additionally, landlords have the option of receiving a reduced security deposit up to the tenant’s portion of the rent or $200 dollars; whichever is greater. Landlords receive vacancy and damage payments only after the landlord rents to a new voucher holder. The Cambridge Housing Authority also engages landlords by informing them of its incentive programs and conducting landlord surveys to improve customer satisfaction. Finally, the housing authority uses custom payment standards to help their program participants find units.

The full issue of Evidence Matters can be found here.

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