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The wait for a housing voucher such as Section 8 can sometimes take years. But even once low-income families and individuals have a voucher, it can be difficult to find landlords who will accept them. 

A 2018 study by the Urban Institute found that 76% of Los Angeles landlords did not accept housing choice vouchers. A California law that took effect in January makes it illegal for landlords to deny potential tenants based their housing voucher status.

But there are still other practices that make it difficult for voucher holders to find units, according to Amy Duganne, program manager for the United Way of Ventura County’s Landlord Engagement Program. 

“There are still practices going on that have a discriminatory impact or effect, when income requirements and other eligibility criterium are so prohibitive that the household we’re trying to serve doesn’t even stand a chance,” she said. “We’re still seeing some of that, and the pandemic has certainly made the rental market even more competitive and challenging.”

The United Way of Ventura County launched the Landlord Engagement Program in December 2019 to increase the housing units available to those with housing vouchers and subsidies. Since then, the program has placed 32 unsheltered homeless households into permanent housing. 

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“The program was born from the need for some tool to help increase the housing stock made available to households transitioning out of homelessness with housing vouchers and housing subsidies, and specifically providing landlord engagement and incentives to have more community housing partners made available for our homeless programs,” said Duganne.

The program uses a combination of education, outreach, financial incentives and other methods to find landlords who will accept households with vouchers and to support those landlords who decide to accept vouchers. 

United Way has compiled a database of landlords who are actively participating in the program and have filled a vacant unit with one of United Way’s clients, as well as landlords who currently don’t have a vacancy but are willing to work with the program in the future. 

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‘Difficult program to maneuver’

Matt Capritto, a local landlord who is involved with the program, said the financial incentives are particularly helpful for landlords due to the additional time it takes to rent a unit to a voucher holder. 

“A typical tenant could contact me, look at the property, and I could say, ‘You can occupy in the next 15 days,’ and the tenant would say, ‘OK, I’ll take it.'”. 

“With the voucher program it could be 30 days or longer depending on where the person is coming from,” he explained, noting that it takes additional time to transfer vouchers from other cities. “It is a very difficult program to maneuver, and that is one of the barriers.”

The United Way program uses financial incentives to supplement the time a landlord might need to leave a unit vacant until the voucher holder can move in. 

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‘Working with a broken system’

Voucher holders can also face difficulties due to the county’s tight rental market. Capritto said he typically can get 40 to 60 calls within two days when he posts a vacancy.

“We’re working with a broken system. If someone has a disadvantage because of domestic abuse or their living situation is not as stable, it is very difficult to remain focused and to be diligent on the phone and keep calling on rentals. When there are other things that overshadow their lives such as bad credit, they just don’t stand a chance,” he said. 

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For veteran Aiden Klotz, the program helped her find an apartment with a Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher. Originally from Oxnard, Klotz said she struggled to find stable housing after fleeing a domestic violence situation over 10 years ago. For years, Klotz and her son bounced around between relatives and shelters. 

Klotz is disabled, which she said prevented her from taking on a second or third job to afford housing. She currently works at Starbucks. 

“It is just really hard to live in California when you’re disabled. It is just a bottomless pit trying to live where you come from and just struggling to survive,” she said. 

After her son moved into his own place with a roommate, Klotz began living in her car. In July, the United Way placed her in a motel through a program that placed homeless veterans in a motel during the coronavirus outbreak.

While at the motel, Klotz said she was approved for her VASH voucher and was able to move into an apartment complex in Ventura utilized by other veterans in the program. 

“It was easy because the people at this apartment complex had worked with vets before so they knew what they were doing,” she said. 

In addition to it being against the law to discriminate against potential renters because they have a housing voucher, Capritto said other landlords should utilize the program because it is the right thing to do. 

“If many of us took a few of these on, the world would change in Ventura County,” he said. 

The United Way recently received a $40,000 challenge grant to support the Landlord Engagement Program from the Ventura County Medical Resource Foundation. The United Way hopes to match the challenge grant through donations by the end of the year. To make a donation, visit http://igfn.us/form/hEGFmg.

Erin Rode covers housing, real estate and development for The Star. Reach her at [email protected] or 805-437-0312.

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