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Apartment owners, managers learn about options for voucher users in housing crunch

Thursday, November 14, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Owners and managers of rental properties throughout Austin recently met with representatives from local housing organizations to learn about the options for making housing units available for those at risk of becoming homeless.

An Oct. 31 panel organized by the Austin Apartment Association featured representatives from the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, Caritas of Austin and the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition informing roughly two dozen attendees from the housing community about the vouchers and supportive services available to ease the transition into a new living space. AAA has offered informal information sessions with members before, but its executives have decided to make the panel at least a yearly event, with the hope of encouraging more owners and managers to accept federal housing vouchers and work with service organizations that assist clients moving into those homes.

The panel also included the announcement that J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. has donated $250,000 to ECHO’s Landlord Engagement and Assistance Program, which makes money available to cover property damage or other expenses caused by ECHO clients living in a rental property.

Bree Williams, ECHO’s director of community housing, said such “backstop” programs are necessary to reduce the risk that a property owner will incur unexpected costs from leasing an apartment space to an ECHO client.

“We’ve been doing this work for some time, working with market rate property managers with this type of fund, and the more resources you bring to the table, it makes it easier for more property managers to get on board. We’ve already executed a number of new partnerships grounded in this resource coming to the table,” she said, while praising the association for bringing peer properties together.

“They created that venue to allow property managers to speak to one another in their own language about what partnering with ECHO and what the support for (housing) providers we work with feels like.”

Lisa Garcia, vice president of assisted housing for HACA, said a rundown of the federal housing voucher program helped some attendees overcome their assumptions that there would be excessive paperwork and administrative costs for new enrollees.

She said some providers are becoming more open-minded about accepting vouchers given the severity of Austin’s shortage of affordable housing. Garcia also pointed to a recent decrease in the turnback rate for recipients who were unable to find properties willing to accept vouchers, though she said some of that is likely caused by a recent decrease in overall occupancy in apartment units.

“The thinking is starting to change as affordable housing becomes more of a topic locally and nationally and folks are becoming more receptive that this is a crucial need for so many people,” she said. “In Austin there are a lot of people working two or three jobs and still need help to pay the rent because rents have gone up so much. This event was trying to break down the stereotypes and show that the voucher is there to help people be able to afford to continue to live in the city.”

Paul Cauduro, director of governmental relations for the apartment association, said the completion of up to 12,000 new apartment units in the next 12 months throughout Austin will likely put pressure on more properties to accept vouchers as a tool to keep occupancy rates high. Last month’s session was intended to facilitate that process by dispelling myths and assumptions about the federal vouchers and the clients who use them.

“Any time someone talks about housing subsidies there’s the connotation that comes with a government program, and it does raise some eyebrows because they think there’s cause for concern,” he said. “The way it was laid out was that these programs are not from the 70s and 80s, they’re very contemporary and well managed and these are good partnerships to have if you want to go down that path.”

Jason Phillips, deputy director of permanent supportive housing and integrated services for Caritas, said property managers tend to be swayed when they realize the array of medical, social and other services available to voucher users thanks to service organizations dedicated to keeping them in stable housing.

“A lot of it is based on long-term relationship-building so they realize that our clients (are not) much different from the other folks in their properties,” he said. “A lot of the issues are the same for people who are living in poverty, but property owners see what’s possible when there’s support there for them. There’s a realization that once someone enters housing they are no longer experiencing homelessness, and a lot of the stigma that comes with that should disappear once the folks in their units are being good neighbors.”

Photo by Arnob Alam made available through a Creative Commons license.

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