Los Angeles County offers cash to landlords willing to take in homeless tenants
LOS ANGELES >> Jamiesha Tillman said she and her four children spent about a year sleeping in a bullet-riddled Buick before making a connection to a new place to live.
“If I would have had someplace for my kids to lay their heads, it would have been easier for me, but by the grace of God, I made it,” Tillman said.
The Tillmans, as well as their fluffy pet rabbit, a pair of bearded dragons and several fish, now make their home inside a South Los Angeles duplex with a grassy yard and interior walls adorned with family photos. The family has lived here for about three months, and they are one of the 570 families or individuals in Los Angeles County whom as of this week, have received housing placements through what’s called the Homeless Incentive Program.
The Homeless Incentive Program is designed to subsidize Los Angeles County landlords who are willing to lease to homeless individuals or families who qualify for rental assistance through either the Section 8 or Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, or VASH, programs.
The Tillmans are Section 8 beneficiaries, and it’s easy to think of their yellow duplex as a haven from not only their recent homeless state but also the crime and risk of violence that Tillman said she experienced while living in a Los Angeles housing project.
Being unable to secure a transfer somewhere else after her car was shot up, she said she chose to live inside it rather than live with threats to her safety.
Now, she feels safe.
“My life is certainly better,” Tillman said. “I’m able to let my kids play outside.”
Housing officials for Los Angeles County and participating cities can draw on some $8 million to administer the program during the current fiscal year, according to information from legislative analyst Debra Solis of the Los Angeles County Housing Authority. Funding may grow to some $11 million for the 2018-19 budget year.
County officials created the incentives to encourage landlords to lease to homeless veterans in 2016. That program is now combined with official efforts to subsidize landlords who lease to Section 8 recipients. Housing Authority are now looking forward to the Measure H sales tax increase that Los Angeles County voters approved in March 2017 as a means of ensuring continuing funding for the incentive program. All but roughly $2 million presently allocated to the incentive program comes from Measure H tax dollars.
Nearly 58,000 people may be homeless over the course of a typical Los Angeles County night, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. The number is based on the county’s 2017 census of its homeless population.
Benefits offered to landlords, homeless
Whereas federal aid programs like Section 8 or Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, also known as VASH, are intended to help needy individuals pay their rent, the Homeless Incentive Program is a more local effort aimed at convincing landlords to do business with homeless people who are eligible for aid.
The incentives primarily consist of financial benefits to landlords that are intended to ease the financial risks that may come with reserving apartments for homeless people.
For example, participating landlords can receive income while waiting for housing officials to inspect a unit before a homeless client moves in.
“They can’t afford to have a unit just sit there for long periods of time,” Johanna Cunningham, executive director of the Apartment Association, California Southern Cities said.
- Landlords can receive one month’s worth of rent, or a “holding fee,” for a unit if they agree to keep an apartment open for an eligible homeless tenant.
- Landlords also can count on a month’s rent payment if tenants leave an apartment without notice or get evicted.
- Housing officials indemnify participating landlords for up to $2,000 worth of property damage.
- Homeless clients can receive help with application fees, security deposits and move-in costs.
In Long Beach, for example, a landlord can receive nearly $1,300 a month while holding a one-bedroom apartment open for a homeless tenant. The level of incentive rises for more spacious units. The incentives to keep a 2- or 3- bedroom dwelling open are, respectively, nearly $1,700 and roughly $2,200 a month.
The average rental rate for a 1-bedroom Long Beach apartment is a bit north of $1,700, according to RentCafe.
One South Bay landlord said he typically has not rented to Section 8 tenants, but now leases to two of the program’s beneficiaries. Long waits for mandatory inspections had previously made holding a unit open for a Section 8 tenant an unwelcome proposition, but landlord Marc Panetta said the government incentives have addressed some of the issues that had been related to taking on Section 8 tenants.
“In the old days, you had to wait three weeks for an inspection,” Panetta said.
Panetta also leases to six veterans who receive VASH benefits, he said. His apartments are in the Gardena area, and said most of his experiences leasing to tenants through the incentives program have been positive.
“All of them have been great, with the exception of one,” Panetta said. “He was a pretty excessive pot smoker, and we don’t allow that in our building.”
Panetta said that tenant, who was a VASH recipient, left his apartment and another VASH beneficiary took his place.
“He’s been great. I’ve had pretty good success with veterans,” he said.
As of this past week, nearly 800 landlords have applied to participate in the incentive program, according to information from Solis.
Leaders of the county’s Housing Authority have recently joined their counterparts in the cities of Long Beach, Los Angeles and Santa Monica for outreach events this month with the intention of persuading area landlords to participate in the program.
In Long Beach, the county’s second-most-populous city, 20 landlords agreed to commit units to the program after a gathering that took place in early April at the Salvation Army Citadel Corps campus in the city.
Although Long Beach housing officials are not currently adding names to their Section 8 waiting list, Long Beach Housing Authority Bureau Manager Alison King said homeless clients can circumvent the list for a prospective housing placement with a willing landlord.
The Multi-Service Center, a place in western Long Beach where homeless clients can seek social services, helps the city’s Housing Authority find people who may be able to receive housing from a participating property owner.
“There’s a certain degree of vulnerability,” she said. “The Multi-Service Center is looking at age, medical status, whether they have children on the street.”
Other cities using Measure H dollars to pay for their own housing authorities’ incentive programs are Burbank, Glendale, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona and Redondo Beach.