The success of the Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly Section 8) depends on participation of landlords with good properties in stable and safe communities. There are a number of federally required processes that must be completed including the inspection and the housing assistance payments contract, insuring that the home or apartment is truly owned or managed by the person or company representing and that there are no lead-based paint or other concerns. Any family renting a home or unit should be assured of the same safeties.
So, how do agencies incentivize landlords to participate or continue participating in the program? The following provides examples of steps that agencies in the Baltimore region are taking that are resulting in increasing numbers of landlords participating in the Voucher Program.
Housing Commission of Anne Arundel County (HCAAC)
There are over 500 owners, landlords and management companies that participate in the Voucher Program in Anne Arundel County. HCAAC has changed to a landlord/owner based portfolio. In this way, an owner only has to work with one staff member for most of their services, rather than deal with multiple departments or staff. Additionally, HCAAC has arranged for direct deposit of rent allowance into owners bank accounts on the first day of every month. This allows for better budgeting and an assurance that HCAAC’s rental portion will be paid on time.
HCAAC’s new website contains a more informed portal for owners and landlords. It includes news, program information, forms and an area to post data to list units for rent. HCAAC’s ultimate goal in late 2014 is to have an accounting portal where owners can log on and see their monthly payments and the check register detail, so they can complete accounting tasks more easily.
HCAAC hopes to use the new landlord portal for online surveys to continue to enhance and improve service.
Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC)
HABC’s Voucher Program currently partners with over 3,000 landlords and management companies to provide the best services possible to program participants. HABC encourages new owners to participate and current owners to remain in the Voucher Program by making communication a priority. HABC dedicates specific walk-in days/hours for landlords to ask questions, which ensures their concerns are addressed promptly. To keep HABC’s partners informed of any program changes and updates, HABC facilitates regularly scheduled Landlord Advisory meetings. Landlords are also welcome to submit feedback to HABC’s Voucher Program office in person, through the quarterly Landlord Committee meetings, or by using the Landlord Property Management tool on the Baltimore Housing website. Keeping these lines of communication available is a priority for the HABC.
HABC uses Go Section 8, which also can be accessed via www.baltimorehousing.org, as a tool for landlords to list their available rentals online. This tool allows landlords to list the location and size of the unit, provide information about the amenities in the unit (including accessible units and accessible features in units for persons with disabilities) and in the neighborhood and to post pictures of the unit. Voucher participants are encouraged to use Go Section 8 as a tool to locate rental units that will address their needs.
HABC’s website will also include a portal that will allow landlords to manage the payment and tenant information for properties rented to Voucher Program participants. HABC also directly deposits rent payments into owners’ bank accounts on the first day of every month.
Baltimore County Office of Housing (BCOH)
BCOH hosts monthly information sessions to give landlords and management companies the opportunity to ask questions and learn about the HCV program. BCOH also offers landlords the opportunity to post their vacancy information in the BCOH waiting room and to keep applications and information brochures about their properties on file in BCOH’s office. In addition, landlords and management companies provide vacancy updates to a BCOH Housing Specialist, who assists clients with locating available units.
Landlords can provide direct feedback or ask questions via BCOH’s dedicated email address firstname.lastname@example.org. All inquiries are answered within 24 business hours. Baltimore County has a dedicated link on GoSection 8, which narrows the search for clients to the Baltimore County area specifically.
BCOH is anticipating implementation of direct deposit to landlords for housing assistance payments by the second quarter of 2015. In addition, BCOH is developing a landlord portal that will provide direct access to payment information and check register detail for each client, which is also expected to be in operation by the second quarter of 2015.
The agencies in the Baltimore region remain open to suggestions from landlords. The future and success of these programs and the agencies are dependent upon convenience and ease of use of the program. For more information on the Housing Choice Voucher program please visit, www.considertheperson.org.