With many refusing to take housing vouchers, Long Beach aims to educate landlords

There are hundreds of homeless people in Long Beach who have housing vouchers that could cover their rent if only they could find landlords willing to take them. Because of that, city officials are now trying to convince landlords to take the guaranteed rent by hosting a workshop next week designed to dispel misconceptions about the voucher program.

Housing choice vouchers are issued through the federal government’s Section 8 program for very low-income households to help cover their monthly rent through subsidies paid directly to landlords. In Long Beach, the value of those vouchers are calculated based on the ZIP code of the unit being rented and how many rooms it has. For the current fiscal year, voucher values range from $1,595 for a one-bedroom unit in west, central or north Long Beach to $2,334 for a unit in southeast Long Beach.

City officials have tried to stress that vouchers mean guaranteed money for landlords every month, and they’ve even offered to pay for empty units if landlords will hold them open for people with vouchers, but it’s still been a struggle to pair people with units.

With that problem as the backdrop, Councilmember Suzie Price will host a workshop for landlords on Aug. 12 at her field office near the Colorado Lagoon. There, landlords will get to meet with city housing officials who will explain how the housing vouchers work and the process of accepting those tenants.

Price said the idea to have the workshop came from conversations she’s had with landlords who expressed concerns that the city is difficult to work with or that they might somehow lose certain property rights if they accept voucher tenants.

“I think it’s important to debunk some of the myths, which is what we did with Motel 6,” Price said, referring to a new supportive housing project at a motel in her district.

Los Angeles County purchased the Motel 6 as part of Project Homekey and turned it into supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. Price held community meetings in advance of the project so the site’s operators could answer questions directly from the community.

She’s unsure how many people will show up to the voucher workshop, but Price is hopeful that getting landlords in the same room with representatives from the city’s Housing Authority, which oversees the voucher program, can help get some people housed.

“It’s not so much the number of people that show up but the number of doors they manage,” Price said, noting that people sometimes manage multiple properties.

The focus right now, Price said, should be on creating affordable housing by using existing units, such as accessory dwelling units and apartments, instead of waiting for new construction that could take years to complete.

John Edmond, the executive director of Apartment Association California Southern Cities, said that landlords are interested in Section 8 vouchers, but current eviction moratoriums could be discouraging them. A general suspicion of government and a view that the process is complicated both breed reluctance, Edmond said, but there is a larger issue on landlords’ minds.

An extension of a countywide eviction moratorium earlier this year made the lowest income tenants the most protected and bars landlords from evicting them until at least June 2023. Edmond said landlords are unclear who that moratorium covers and some don’t want to get into a situation where they take on a new tenant whom they might not be able to evict if problems arise.

“Every day is more and more complicated for what the rules are because there are many layers of government in this space,” Edmond said.

Long Beach’s annual homeless count was conducted in February and the results shared last month showed a 62% increase in people experiencing some form of homelessness in the city, with about 700 additional people living on the streets compared to 2020.

Health Department officials said that about 400 people who are currently unhoused have housing vouchers that could help pay for their monthly rents, but the city has so far been unsuccessful in pairing them with a willing landlord to rent them a unit.

Those vouchers are typically good for 90 days but can be extended for as long as 270 days to give the person time to find a unit that will accept them. After that, they could have to reapply and potentially join a waiting list.

The workshop for landlords will run from noon to 2 p.m. on Aug. 12 at Price’s field office at 340 Nieto Avenue. No RSVP necessary.

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.