- The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has launched a task force as part of a greater campaign to encourage more landlords to participate in the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program. The HCV program — previously known as Section 8 — is the country’s largest rental subsidy program, assisting 2 million low-income households annually.
- The task force was announced after two HUD-commissioned studies discovered that many landlords discriminate against residents who use vouchers, and many of those who accept the voucher holders complain about the HCV program's administrative requirements.
- The Urban Institute study found that many landlords in the five test cities of Fort Worth, TX; Los Angeles; Newark, NJ; Philadelphia; and Washington, DC would not rent to, and were more likely to miss appointments with, voucher holders. The Johns Hopkins University study examined landlords and property managers in the test cities of Baltimore, Dallas and Cleveland, concluding that landlords influence low-income families' housing options and that local rental market conditions influence landlords' desire to participate in the HCV program.
The studies' results are disheartening as they illustrate how low-income families struggle to secure stable housing, even when assistance is readily available through the HCV program. They have additional barriers to overcome once accepted into the program, namely trying to get landlords to accept their housing vouchers. Although federal fair housing laws make it illegal for landlords to discriminate based on renter characteristics including race, gender and disabilities, housing voucher status is not covered in the protections.
"Landlords have significant power in defining housing options for poor families; landlords in nearly every jurisdiction can decide whether to accept families with housing vouchers," said a portion of the Johns Hopkins study.
HUD plans to begin its landlord engagement campaign late next month. Although details on how the new Landlord Task Force will work in the long run are slim, HUD announced that the first step will be to hold listening sessions with landlords across the country, especially those who do not accept housing vouchers. Landlord forums are planned for Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, UT and Salem, OR.
HUD's goal is to learn how it can make the HCV program more acceptable and accessible, particularly in areas with the lowest landlord participation. After the listening sessions the Landlord Task Force will suggest policy and program changes to increase landlord participation in the HCV program.
This action might create change in the coming years after all the bureaucratic processes are complete, but it does not do anything to increase landlords' acceptance of voucher holders in the short term. This will be a difficult problem for HUD to solve, short of mandating that landlords participate in the program.