With Long Beach in danger of losing federal funding to its housing authority programs the city council voted 8-0 last night to start crafting an incentive package that could bring more landlords on board with accepting Section 8 housing vouchers.
For years the city had been in good standing with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which issues the funding that goes into the vouchers that help subsidize rent for low-income residents. With a lease-up rate—a term given to the amount of vouchers issued that are actually used—of 98 percent the city was considered “high performing” by HUD. but has recently seen that rate drop to 85 percent.
Those federal dollars become subject to reallocation if a city drops below 95 percent when HUD classifies a local housing authority as failing in terms of lease-up rates. Long Beach Housing Authority Bureau Manager Alison King said that those funds could be “recaptured” by the federal government to assist other programs across the country that are running a shortfall if the city is unable to increase its lease-up rate.
“Many owners in the area are not even giving an opportunity to voucher-holding families,” King said. “We understand and respect their need to vet these families and anyone else that occupies the unit. We simply want them to have a chance to apply and be considered based on their suitability for tenancy.”
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, who authored the item and serves as the chair of the city’s housing authority, said that a lot of misinformation had played into landlords not wanting to participate in the Section 8 program, locally known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
In a series of outreach efforts to landlords, Richardson said several recurring concerns popped up, including the Section 8 housing inspections being too rigorous on top of other city mandated inspections, the perception that Section 8 tenants can’t be treated like normal tenants when it comes to evictions and the ability for property owners to rent at market rates with less bureaucracy involved.
“With a two percent vacancy rate in the Long Beach housing market it’s become increasingly difficult for subsidized tenants to find housing,” Richardson said. “There are over 1,000 families and individuals that hold a voucher but are unable to find a landlord to rent to them or a vacant Section 8 vacancy.”
To help solve this issue and potentially retain those federal dollars currently in jeopardy, Richardson is seeking a package of incentives to lure more property owners back into accepting voucher-holding tenants.
Those incentives could include the city waiving fees for permitting and inspections, streamlining city inspections with HUD inspections, providing landlords with vacancy payments to keep units open to voucher holders and the creation of a damage mitigation fund that would assist landlords with repairs if units are damaged by voucher-holding tenants.
Johanna Cunningham, executive director of the Apartment Association, Southern California Cities, was on hand to thank Richardson for his outreach effort and for including the voice of property owners in the Section 8 overhaul efforts. Cunningham added that the meetings had worked to clear up misconceptions regarding the program and the association looked forward to future changes.
However, some landlords in attendance still appeared to be opposed to the Section 8 program despite the city’s looking into incentives to encourage them to accept the vouchers.
Robert Fox complained that the HUD-mandated inspections were too rigorous and left him being penalized for minor fixes, which he made, but was still docked a month’s worth of rent. He likened the inspection standards to those that would be conducted for a mansion in Newport Beach, not an apartment complex in Long Beach.
“We need to codify the kind of inspection we’re going to do on housing,” Fox said. “We are not, in Section 8, giving palatial palaces to rich and famous folks. We just want good, standard, clean housing. That’s what we want, and I provide it. I don’t provide anything else but.”
Andy Whallon, who was defeated by Congressman Alan Lowenthal last November in the race to represent the state’s 47th district in Congress, said he no longer accepts Section 8 because of the issues associated with those tenants, a core issue that Richardson is seeking to dispel.
“I found that the vast majority of them are bad housekeepers,” said Whallon, who holds properties in four districts throughout the city. “A lot them don’t even know they’re bad housekeepers but they’re bad housekeepers, and a huge majority of them are horrible housekeepers. And what’s the consequence of that always? Roaches.”
The city currently receives nearly $70 million annually for its voucher program from the federal government. Despite broad cutbacks proposed to HUD in President Donald Trump’s preliminary budget, those cuts would not extend to programs like Section 8.
Still, the city risks losing a portion of that funding if the tenants who have been granted vouchers remain unable to find landlords to accept them as tenants. The report back to the city council is expected to return within 30 days.
While the apartment association says it’s behind the effort to expand Section 8 housing, it appears that more outreach could be done to bring even more landlords into the fold.
“Not everyone that holds Section 8 is a drug dealer or a gang member or some kind of criminal and we’re not trying to protect them because there are laws to get them out if they do violate some sort of laws,” said Jorge Rivera, a program director at LIBRE, a housing advocacy group. “But we do need to educate the community and those property owners that still are holding onto some of those myths about Section 8 tenants and maybe educate them and open their minds a little bit.”