HUD Commentary for the Worcester Health and Housing Block Party

On Saturday April 6, 2019, MassLandlords will be participating in the City of Worcester’s Health and Housing Block Party on the Hill. In addition to our free window screen repair clinic (sponsored by Lowe’s) and our main stage presentations on renter rights and landlord rights, Executive Director Doug Quattrochi will also be providing commentary to HUD. Here is the message we intend to deliver:

Section 8 lease-up times must be made faster. This will eliminate the stigma of Section 8. There is a market for subsidy administrators. It is broken because administrators have a monopoly on the vouchers they issue. We must give Section 8 renters choice not just in housing but also in their administrator. This will make administrators more responsive to landlords and renters.

Statement by Executive Director to HUD

My name is Doug Quattrochi, I’m the executive director of MassLandlords, Inc. We are a 501(c)6 nonprofit trade association. We have 1,500 members and 5,000 participants state-wide. Our mission is to create better rental housing. We help owners run profitable, compliant, quality businesses.

I’d like to thank the City of Worcester, especially Jim Brooks, Director of Housing and Healthy Homes, for their commitment to having diverse perspectives on housing issues. I’d also like to thank the Department of Housing and Urban Development for providing the lion’s share of permanent supportive subsidy, which is one of the most effective tools we have for health and wellbeing. I would like to focus my few minutes on permanent supportive subsidy, particularly the Housing Choice Voucher Program and the time it takes to lease up.

Economists tell us that Section 8 is highly efficient. For every dollar we spend on rental subsidy, we save between $1.10 and $1.40 in the form of higher educational attainment for children, lower medical bills for families, and lower social service costs overall.

In Massachusetts, I think we are fortunate (and in some ways, burdened) by a state law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of receiving public assistance. Specifically, this means landlords cannot turn away an applicant because of the fact that they receive Section 8. This is fair enough. But it also means we cannot turn away applicants because of any requirement of the Section 8 program.

For example, landlords must have their apartments inspected, and they can’t reject a section 8 application because they don’t want an inspection. Obviously, this makes sense at one level. We should not as a society be subsidizing unsafe, substandard, or price-gouged housing. But this protection also means landlords have to accept any delay, whether of their own making or caused by an administrator (by “administrators” I mean both public housing authorities and nonprofits).

In 2015, I sat in a subsidy administrator’s office with my new renter-customer waiting to enter a new Section 8 lease. This was the end of a two-month journey. My renter gave one month notice to her current landlord. My apartment was in good shape when I listed it. My screening process was fast. We both decided quickly to lease up. The subsidy administrator was almost totally unresponsive. They never answered the phone. Their voicemail was full. They didn’t respond to emails. My renter had no idea whether she would have an apartment. She worried she would become homeless. She went to the ER with chest pains. Nothing could better illustrate the connection between housing and health. And with all respect to the administrators here today, who I know have heavy caseloads, this story is not unique.

To truly help our subsidized renters, we must eliminate the differences between subsidy lease-ups, which can take months, and market lease-ups, which can be done in a day. We can do this while preserving our well-reasoned and essential protections on housing quality. Here’s what we propose:

Landlords who believe they may rent Section 8 should be permitted to schedule their inspection with any authorized third party, for instance, the City, as soon as the unit becomes vacant, before any renter has even seen the ad.

Rental agreements should permit either party to sign electronically without the need to visit the office during business hours.
The math used to determine rent reasonableness and a renter’s portion should be reimagined so that landlords and brokers see up-front that a tenant can afford the rent, and also that the asking rent is reasonable.

Finally, and most importantly, renters should have absolute right to transfer their vouchers to another subsidy administrator, without the administrator’s approval. And instead of being found liable for discrimination when they express a preference for administrator, landlords should be freed and even encouraged to publish which administrators they prefer to work with.

There is a market not just for housing, but also for subsidy administration. And the market is broken by regulations that leave it unresponsive to its landlord and renter customers. A little housing choice, not just apartment to apartment, but administrator to administrator, would go a long way towards process improvement, efficiency, and our collective health and wellbeing.

Thank you for your attention this afternoon, and for your consideration of this needed reform.

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