This blog is the second in a series highlighting local approaches to improve housing choice for low-income families, incentivize family self-sufficiency, and achieve greater cost effectiveness in HUD spending through the Moving to Work demonstration program.
Research shows that housing choice vouchers (HCVs) can reduce homelessness, improve housing stability, and reduce overcrowded conditions for low-income families. However, only 60% of families who receive vouchers are ultimately able to use them to lease units.
Voucher recipients face numerous hurdles when looking for and leasing rental housing, including competition from households that can pay market rents without subsidies, landlords who are hesitant to deal with administrative processes required by public housing authorities (PHAs), and misconceptions about voucher holders. This blog features strategies that four Moving to Work (MTW) PHAs—Atlanta Housing Authority (AH), Louisville Metro Housing Authority (LMHA), Oakland Housing Authority (OHA), and San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC)—have implemented to directly respond to these common barriers and expand housing choice.
Common Barriers & Housing Authority Solutions to Boost Housing Choice
Barrier #1: Landlords, especially those in high opportunity neighborhoods, have many options to fill their units.
Housing vouchers uniquely enable low-income households to live in communities they may not otherwise be able to afford, offering them a chance to move out of higher-poverty and less-resourced neighborhoods if they so choose. Despite their importance to the success of the HV program, landlords have participated in fewer and fewer numbers in recent years, as HUD and others in the industry have documented.
Solution: Landlord incentives
MTW housing authorities draw on flexible funding to make voucher families more competitive applicants in their unique rental markets. For instance, in response to a limited supply of available one-bedroom units in the Louisville area, LMHA offers a special incentive to landlords who lease this housing type to their voucher holders. To test and evaluate landlord incentives, HUD selected 29 PHAs to join the MTW program as a cohort focused on these strategies. While it is too early to report on any findings from the cohort, the PHAs highlighted below were able to report increases in housing choice because of their landlord incentives.
Barrier #2: The inspection process lengthens lease-up timelines, and owners incur the costs of repairs.
More than half of landlords surveyed in HUD’s landlord participation study cited inspection issues as motivation for not participating in the HCV program. The process of scheduling an inspection can take days or even weeks, and failed inspections add more days to the lease-up timeline. Last year, HUD completed a comprehensive overhaul of its inspection protocol, and the resulting National Standards for the Inspection of Real Estate rule replaced Housing Quality Standards as the framework to determine housing quality. One of HUD’s goals for the overhaul was to address landlord concerns about the consistency of inspections, but challenges remain.
Solution: Flexible inspection timing and incentives for compliance
MTW PHAs have developed their own strategies in response to critiques about the inspection process, with the aim to boost landlord participation and thus housing choice. Some PHAs have developed new processes to offer pre-qualifying inspections to landlords as soon as their units are ready for inspection, rather than waiting for applicants to submit inspection requests. San Diego Housing Commission shared that the pre-inspection program was a compelling method to engage landlords who had concerns about timelines to lease up HCV clients versus market rate clients.
Barrier #3: Landlords fear HCV tenants will damage their units.
Landlords who choose not to lease to HCV families often do so for financial reasons. Some have misconceptions that households who receive vouchers will damage units, and that those households will be unable to pay for the costs of repairs.
Solution: Funds to pay for damage expenses
To alleviate landlord concerns, MTW housing authorities have set aside funds to cover certain tenant-caused damages to units they lease. Typically, the damages must be incurred within a certain period during an HCV family’s tenancy, be documented and reported by the landlord in a timely manner, and be in excess of normal wear and tear.
Barrier #4: HCV families may not be able to afford monthly rents for units in resource-rich areas.
HUD typically sets one fair market rent (FMR) amount per metropolitan area, which means rental units that are affordable to HCV families are often clustered in lower-rent neighborhoods of that metro area. PHAs do have the discretion to vary the payment standard between 90% and 110% of their area’s FMR, giving them the ability to account for varying local market conditions, but voucher families may still have difficulty finding affordable units in higher-cost and higher opportunity neighborhoods.
Solution: Higher rent payments
In October 2023, HUD expanded the use of neighborhood-level rents to 41 public housing authorities in an attempt to boost families’ ability to afford units in a wider array of neighborhoods. Moving to Work PHAs have employed similar strategies to enable their voucher holders to access units in desirable neighborhoods. Atlanta Housing Authority staff shared that, while Atlanta is still a challenging market, sub-market payment standards have been an important tool to open up higher-quality housing opportunities for their families.
The Housing Choice Voucher program offers a critical boost to low-income households at a time when our nation’s housing supply is inadequate to meet demand, and many households struggle to find available, affordable homes. Higher, more competitive rents, monetary incentives, and tackling inspections earlier in the process allows Moving to Work housing authorities to help their voucher holders find and secure housing in competitive markets. Congress should consider raising or removing the cap on the number of housing authorities that can participate in the MTW program, enabling more local jurisdictions to expand housing choice for families in their communities.
Support Research Like This
With your support, BPC can continue to fund important research like this by combining the best ideas from both parties to promote health, security, and opportunity for all Americans.Give Now