When it comes to finding affordable housing on the market, Bridget and Carlo Erna don’t have time for tired old myths.
That’s why their plans for a 6-unit building they are renovating on Scott Street include putting it up for rent as soon as possible through the Housing Choice Voucher program run by the City of Covington.
Bridget Erna said the couple had a positive experience renting out a property through the federal housing program historically known as “Section 8” – both here in Covington as a couple and for Carlo when he lived. in Boston. They have found that their tenants take good care of their property and pay their rent on time.
“You hear all of these horror stories about the tenants in Section 8, but they are by far the best tenants we have,” explained Bridget Erna.
Unfortunately, local governments continue to have difficulty recruiting landlords and properties for the vouchers, which can be used throughout Kenton County.
“The Housing Choice Voucher program is important because it helps meet one of the most basic human needs – shelter,” said Brandon Holmes, of Covington Neighborhood Services.
And the “parameters” of the program are also important, he said, because they ensure that affordable housing meets quality standards.
Unfortunately, these realities do not always match.
“Many individuals and families – including families with several adults working – still cannot afford to afford safe, decent and hygienic housing,” he said. “This is where the Housing Choice Voucher can help. Renters not only benefit from the payment of reduced rent due to the subsidy paid to their landlord, but they also have the option of living in a house or apartment that is inspected annually to ensure that their home meets standards. federal housing quality standards.
Long list of misconceptions
Kim Phillips, coordinator of the city’s Home Choice voucher program, said many of the long-standing assumptions plaguing the program involve:
• Geography – The city oversees the program, but the 1,200 vouchers allocated to Kenton County can be used across the county. In fact, only about 60% of the vouchers are used at Covington, Phillips said.
• Paperwork – There’s less paperwork than people think, and most of it is prepared by staff in Section 8, Phillips said: “We’ve had quite a few owners telling us, ‘Is that it? Is that all there is? It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.
• Controls – The City does a basic inspection of rental properties up front to ensure they meet housing quality standards, but this inspection focuses on common sense security and code issues – not common sense. aesthetic, she said. If any deficiencies are found, owners have the option to correct them or they can simply remove that property from the program.
• Time – The federal government requires the City to inspect any new unit within two weeks, but most inspections are completed within days, she said.
• Leases – The section 8 program requires a separate lease between the City and the landlord tied to the terms of the program, but in most cases the City remains outside the leases between landlords and tenants. However, he ensures that there is no discrimination in hiring.
• To rent – The program does not set the amount of rent and only requires that the rent and any security deposit be “fair and reasonable” based on local experiences, Phillips said. Once the rent is set, section 8 requires families to pay 30 percent of their income for rent and housing expenses, and the government pays the rest.
• Flexibility – If a property has several dwellings, the owners can split them up and enter only one dwelling or a few of them in the program of section 8.
• Enforcement – If a tenant violates the lease, the City does not oppose the execution, said Phillips. “After the initial paperwork is done, most of us are out of sight and the owners can usually run their business as they normally would,” she said.
• Units – While most Section 8 coupons are used to rent apartments, they can also be used for single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes, mobile homes, condominiums, townhouses, and cottages.
• Screening – The city is verifying income and doing a criminal background check (although only certain convictions disqualify a tenant), Phillips said. Any other checks (such as eviction and credit history) are not only the owner’s right, but also their responsibility.
• Stigma – The biggest misconception concerns the image of the Housing Choice Voucher program itself. Some people assume that if a property is run down it must be Section 8 and all participants are ‘problem’ tenants. The reality is that many Section 8 rentals are in better condition than other apartments and houses, and the program offers many benefits for owners.
At this last point, homeowners aren’t the only ones affected by misinformation. With tenants, these misconceptions often create an unfounded and unfair stigma on families who just need help putting a roof over their heads.
As a result, tenants often feel pressured both to explain that they did not expect to rent under Section 8 and to offer the assurance that they are working to exit the program. At the same time, they also generally note that they don’t know what they would have done without the program.
“The families in Section 8 are no different from other families – financially, they just need help,” Phillips said.
Help at the right time
The tenants themselves echo this assessment.
For years Diane (who requested that her last name not be used) loved her work in science and looked forward to a long career in this profession. But that career ended a few years ago when she was hit by a car and suffered a head injury.
“I’m going to tell you that I never thought I would one day be here, but I’m so grateful for the (housing) program,” she said. “I don’t know how I would live without it. They help me a lot and I have a great owner.
Likewise, Joseph, a single father with two children, worked hard at his job but suffered a financial blow when the rent on his Taylor Mill home was increased during the pandemic.
“It was at the start of Covid,” he said. “It was the worst of the worst.”
The father said he had never considered section 8 housing until someone told him about it.
“I thought about it for a month and then thought I would give them a call,” he said. “We ended up getting some help, and the guy who helped me was really good and thorough. He really helped me and my kids.
Joseph, who now rents a house in Crescent Springs through the program, is keen to say that this is his first time participating in Section 8 and working to get back on his feet. But then he added: “not that there is anything wrong with section 8.”
Certainly, for him and for others, it can mean the difference between having a home or being homeless.
“I could have been on the streets and maybe lost my children. I’ve had them since 2015, ”he said. “I would tell people it’s a great program. It helped us and saved me and my children. It is worth giving it a try.
Benefits for owners
Bridget Erna describes the voucher paperwork as a “simple and streamlined process”.
“Section 8 makes it so easy,” Erna said. “Once we got our first apartment ready I called section 8 and all I had to do was give them the address and they put it on their website. They said, “People will call you, so pick a tenant, sign their voucher and we’ll take it from there.” Section 8 gets the ball rolling.
Ease of the process is one piece, and guaranteed payment – at “market rent” – is another.
“If I had to say something to encourage other landlords to participate, I think the most obvious is the guaranteed rent,” said Erna. “It’s deposited directly into your account on the first of every month, and that’s the actual market rent. . . We get more than people get when not working with Section 8.
Phillips said many owners like the program because
• The city’s share of rent is guaranteed and, as Erna confirmed, directly deposited each month.
• The fear of a tenant losing their Section 8 bond helps hold them accountable for rental obligations, such as prompt payment and upkeep of the property.
• And while the owners and tenants are technically responsible for finding and entering into rental agreements, the program can help. It has an electronic inventory of available properties that it updates twice a month, seen HERE, and potential tenants can get on a waitlist by pre-applying HERE, Phillips said.
“Homeowners and renters owe it to themselves and their families to be right on the money and find out the real story of the Housing Choice Voucher program,” she said.
Town of Covington