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A Perfect Storm for Policy Entrepreneurs to Increase Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) Landlord Participation

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Michael C. Threatt
July 11, 2021

The pending eviction tsunami has created raging waves of worry based on the anticipation of the eviction moratorium that will soon be lifted for low-income housing advocates, affordable housing providers and elected officials. Moreover, this could be a perfect storm for the recent bipartisan legislation, the Choice in Affordable Housing Act. The pending eviction tsunami is an example of an ideal window of opportunity for affordable housing policy reform as the paradigm shifts toward the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), formerly known as Section 8. Specifically, the paradigm shift has created an agenda-setting opportunity for the current administration to shift focus toward increasing funding for the HCVP under the Universal Voucher Program. In their book, Policy Analysis As Problem Solving, Meltzer and Schwartz stated that policy entrepreneurs take advantage of policy windows to promote potential cost-effective policy solutions.

The bipartisan legislation, the Choice in Affordable Housing Act bill is paramount for the Moving to Work (MTW) Cohort #4 Landlord Incentives opportunity for public housing authorities (PHAs), such as the Dothan Housing Authority, to provide incentives for landlords to lease to voucher holders. Congress enacted the MTW demonstration program in 1996, in which a limited number of PHAs were selected. The 2016 MTW Expansion Statute allows HUD to increase the program’s size from 39 agencies to 139 agencies. There will be 100 new PHAs that receive the MTW Demonstration designation. In January 2021, HUD selected PHAs for the first and second cohorts. The fourth cohort of the MTW Demonstration Expansion will evaluate landlord incentives and their effect on landlord participation in the HCVP. The MTW Cohort #4 Landlord Incentives Demonstration will allow PHAs to design and test innovative, locally designed housing and self-sufficiency strategies. These strategies include landlord incentivized payments for the following: a) vacancy loss payment for long waiting periods, b) damage protection payment for tenant-related damages, c) security deposit for voucher holders who cannot afford to pay the required amount, and d) signing bonus for landlords for adding more units to lease.

The bipartisan bill combined with the MTW Landlord Incentives Cohort will allow PHAs to attract, recruit, and retain landlords to participate in the HCVP to address the phenomenon of landlord withdrawal. Ultimately, this is a cost-effective policy solution to repair the broken relationship for this public-private partnership with landlords so that the HCVP can live up to its intended purpose. This perfect storm example for policy entrepreneurs exemplifies John Kingdon’s Multiple Streams Theory, based on the streams of policy (Choice in Affordable Housing Act), politics (Congress), and problems (10,000 landlords withdrawing from the HCVP annually) combining into one stream. This is a window of opportunity for housing policy reform for HCVP landlords and voucher holders since all three streams are flowing perfectly together. In the Policy Analysis As Problem Solving book, Meltzer and Schwartz illustrated that those policy entrepreneurs aggressively combine these streams during the agenda-setting stage to elevate the correlation between the problem and solution to elected officials by linking them to create a new public policy.

This correlation of the Choice in Affordable Housing Act, the MTW Cohort #4 Landlord Incentives and the pending ending of the eviction moratorium is an ideal perfect storm for policy entrepreneurs. Furthermore, since 2009, the HCVP loses 10,000 landlords annually due to institutional bureaucracy and bureaucratic red tape from the HCVP. Vining and Weimer indicated in their Policy Analysis: Concepts and Practice book that public administrators can contribute to opening policy windows by providing evidence to illustrate a significant public policy problem. In my dissertation research, I added empirical knowledge to address the research gap to recruit and retain landlord participation in the HCVP. Unfortunately, some landlords are currently being generalized as discriminatory landlords based on the influx of local Source-of-Income (SOI) laws around the country. Nonetheless, not all landlords discriminate, but many landlords do not want to deal with the institutional bureaucracy and bureaucratic red tape of the local PHA, HUD and the HCVP itself.

Many landlords have had negative experiences, which resulted in them withdrawing from the HCVP altogether and explains the withdrawal phenomenon. As a practitioner of the housing authority, real estate professional and researcher of the HCVP, it is time to swing the pendulum of HCVP landlords the other way. This public-private partnership often gives the perception of a two-sided partnership; however, it should be a three-way partnership on paper, as it was initially designed in 1974. Furthermore, without landlords meeting the demand for voucher holders, this reduces the number of affordable housing units for voucher holders, creates additional barriers for voucher holders to lease in low-poverty areas, and entraps voucher holders leasing in high-poverty neighborhoods only.

Instead of being reactive because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is an opportunity for policymakers to create public policy proactively. Although the CARES Act funding allowed PHAs to utilize the administrative fee to incentivize landlords through security deposit payments, vacancy payments, damage mitigation payments and bonus payments for new and current landlords, the need for permanent policy is essential. The flexibilities and waivers of the CARES Act must be used as a catalyst for housing policy reform for policymakers by permanently removing the bureaucratic red tape to increase the recruitment and retention of landlords. The Choice in Affordable Housing Act is a pathway toward this policy reform that includes providing a financial bonus to PHAs to hire a full-time landlord liaison and funding to invest in technology to streamline their HCVP operations. The cost to participate in the HCVP is a conscious decision for landlords of PHAs, and the price of bureaucracy is too great a cost for both voucher holders and landlords to continue to pay. Policymakers must critically evaluate policy alternatives to improve landlord retention and recruitment to counter the landlord withdrawal phenomenon. A good start would be to bridge the gap between theory and practice through the theory of institutional change.

Author: Dr. Michael C. Threatt earned his doctorate in public administration (DPA) from West Chester University (WCU) in Pennsylvania and was recently awarded the 2021 Most Outstanding Student. He is currently the Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Dothan Housing Authority and principal of Elevate Housing Solutions, LLC. In 2019, he won the Executive Director of the Year and won the Website of the Year award for AAHRA. Dr. Threatt is a member of ASPA, NFBPA, and a licensed Realtor®/ Realtist in Alabama. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on LinkedIn @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-michael-c-threatt-dpa-8893b871/.

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