Incentives Rolled Out to House the Homeless

By: 
Sean Belk

As a way to give back to his community, property owner Brad Johnson took a risk nearly three years ago by housing Section 8 voucher holders and homeless veterans.

Today, his 36 apartment units  provide affordable housing for 20 low-income tenants and 16 U.S. veterans, and a handful were once homeless, he said. Although such government-subsidized tenants might come with their own challenges, the reward for Johnson is helping provide a vulnerable population with a safe place to live.

“Some of them are floating around, either living in their car or in between staying on friends’ couches, living on the streets or just going wherever they can to find a warm place to get a little bit of shelter,” Johnson said. “This is my way of giving back a little bit.”

Earlier this month, the Housing Authority of the City of Long Beach (HACLB) co-hosted an event with the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA) along with city and state elected government officials to inform local landlords about new financial incentives aimed at helping end the region’s homeless crisis.

Nearly 120 landlords in attendance learned about the Homeless Incentive Program (HIP), which provides financial protections and other safeguards to landlords who accept federal government-subsidized tenants holding county- or city-issued housing choice vouchers, such as Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) or Section 8 vouchers.

The program, funded through voter-approved Measure H, helps prevent the City of Long Beach from losing millions of dollars in federal U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing assistance funds, as the number of voucher holders in need of housing continues to outweigh the number of property owners willing to accept such tenants.

According to recent statistics, about 20 percent or about 1,500 housing voucher holders out of the more than 7,200 total voucher holders approved and administered through the Long Beach Housing Authority are unable to find a home due to a unit not being available or landlords not participating in the program. In addition, statistics show that nearly 2,000 individuals were experiencing homelessness in the city last year.

The lack of supply and high demand has made it difficult for many individuals to be placed on the waiting list for a Section 8 voucher, with some taking more than a decade to be given subsidized housing.

“There’s a huge supply and demand imbalance,” said Johnson, who attended the outreach event and is participating in the program. “If you’re competing with a bunch of other people, there’s not a lot of turnover and, in a sense, it’s really difficult for these families to be able to find homes, so they can use their vouchers.”

According to city officials, Measure H allowed the city to launch its program in March and is expected to provide more than $700,000 in landlord incentives this fiscal year.

The unprecedented program is comprised of three main components, including: a one-month payment to hold the rental unit while a tenant is referred; move-in assistance, such as money for a security deposit and utility connection fees, to individuals experiencing homelessness; and financial assistance to landlords to mitigate damage caused by tenants during their occupancy.

Ninth District Council member and Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, who serves as Long Beach Housing Authority Commission chair, said in a statement that the program is a way to help offset certain challenges that may come with housing homeless individuals and government-subsidized renters.

“The Homeless Incentive Program is a great opportunity for landlords to get involved with combating homelessness in Long Beach,” he said. “We recognize that housing this vulnerable population can come with challenges and we are optimistic that this program will offset some of those challenges. I am excited about the opportunities this program provides for both landlords and tenants.”

For many landlords, housing the homeless and Section 8 voucher holders is “tough,” Johnson said, adding that other components that contribute to the homeless population, such as substance abuse, mental health and job placement, need to be addressed to help such individuals become independent.

“I think it goes beyond the housing [crisis] because there are all these other components out there that need to be addressed with the homeless population,” he said. “I think they are making changes to help that and Measure H is one of those, but there are job placement, medical help and other things that [governments] are still trying to work on.”

Still, Johnson noted that about 90 percent of landlords who have participated in the program, which has already been administered in L.A. County, have returned to house additional persons experiencing homelessness, meaning landlords are “having a good experience.”

Kari Faithful, ombudsman/community services liaison for the Long Beach Housing Authority, said in an interview with the Beachcomber that the city has provided incentives to five landlords so far, adding that more are expected to participate after information was provided through the outreach event.

“We’re just getting off the ground,” she said. “I’ve been inundated with new contacts ever since the event, so I’ve got a lot of follow ups to do.”

Faithful said landlords participating in the program “just have to be willing to house a homeless family” to receive financial incentives. She added that apartment units must pass a housing quality standards inspection regulated by HUD, as the city conducts biannual inspections.

Persons experiencing homelessness are encouraged to contact the city’s multi-service center, located at 1301 W. 12th St., which is part of a “Continuum of Care” system that utilizes nearly a dozen local social service organizations, including public safety and nonprofit agencies.

sean@beachcomber.news

 

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