Laurie Matowski from the Worcester Housing Authority on Subsidies
Handout on difference between Section 8, MRVP, VASH
Rich: So we’re going to talk about VASH and some of ‑
Rich: The other subsidy alphabet soup, so you go ahead and get started.
Rich: Do you know what you’re going to start with?
Laurie: Well ‑
Rich: Can we start with VASH like what does it stand for and what is it?
Laurie: Yeah. Actually, I took your questions and I just figured I will go ahead and I’ll keep them short. You can ask questions, but I know we only have so much time. I did tell Rich that this can last like hours – no, not really. I’m kidding. I’m kidding. Okay, so the question was about VASH. What is VASH and what does it stand for? Well, it’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. It works exactly like conventional Section 8. That’s what it is. All it is veterans though that are receiving the Section 8 benefits and they also have to receive supportive housing, but they get that from the Veterans thing. It doesn’t get it from us. It doesn’t get it from the landlords. They’re just regular Section 8 voucher holders looking for apartments and we do have quite a few veterans that are out there looking for apartments, so it’s the same thing. VASH is Section 8.
Rich: That was easy.
Rich: All right. How about MRVP?
Laurie: Okay, so you have the Section 8 program and then you have the MRVP program. The MRVP program is Mass Rental Voucher Program and that is through the state agency, DHCD. It works similar to the Section 8 program. It just has some fundamental differences, which I did on a handout that I have – I don’t know if I have many but I addressed each question and put the difference between the Section 8 program and the MRVP program.
Rich: You’re awesome.
Laurie: So if we would come through that.
Rich: That was going to be my next question.
Laurie: I can kind of go through that for you if you want.
Rich: Sure. Could you go over some of the highlights? That would be good.
Laurie: Sure, so the Section 8 program is a federally funded program where the MRVP program is state. The MRVP program is a very small program, I mean at least with the Worcester Housing Authority. I have close to 3,700 vouchers in Worcester and only 2 percent of that is the MRVP program, so it’s very small, very small.
Rich: Okay, so maybe we won’t spend hours on that.
Laurie: No, I mean that depends. If people out there getting MRVP vouchers, I mean because we do have some people out there searching occasionally. It requires a lease, but it requires a state lease where the Section 8 program allows the landlord to use their own lease if it’s approved by us or they can use our model lease. But the MRVP program uses a state lease.
Rich: So I have a question about that.
Rich: So if you use the state lease, can you attach that as an addendum to your own lease?
Laurie: Our lease supersedes your lease.
Laurie: So you may have additional items that you may want and if our lease does not address it or it’s not in violation, then it’s okay.
Laurie: So that’s acceptable.
Rich: Okay. My lease is really long. But as long as it doesn’t have any conflicts with the state lease‑
Rich: Then it’s okay?
Rich: But if there is a conflict, then the state lease would supersede.
Laurie: That is correct.
Rich: That is fair enough.
Laurie: That is correct.
Laurie: Okay. The inspections, okay. The Section 8 program requires an initial inspection. We cannot place a family under lease until it passes an inspection and usually if it fails the first time out, we’ll let the landlord take care of the items. You call back when it’s finished. We’ll go out, re-inspect. Usually we’ll allow a landlord up to 2 months. Now mind you, you’re not getting paid during that time that it doesn’t pass, so you want to get that finished. The MRVP program requires a certificate of fitness from the Board of Health and that is where the landlord pays for, which is I think about $125 right now for a certificate of fitness.
Laurie: $110? Okay, thanks, Sandy. So what happens is if you want to rent to an MRVP person, you have to provide also a copy with your certificate of fitness and then that’s it. There’s no other inspections after that where the Section 8 program has annual inspections. Yes, sir.
Male Audience 1: [unintelligible 0:04:40].
Rich: All right. Just because I’m not that limber, if you guys can keep your questions until the end, will you remember it? Okay, thank you.
Rich: Can we go back to the part about not getting paid [laughter]? So how quickly can I get this thing fixed and still paid for that month because I like to take care of the place? I like to fix things.
Rich: I don’t like to not get paid.
Laurie: So we cannot enter into a contract with you until the apartment passes inspection. This is Section 8 that we’re talking about.
Rich: That means people haven’t moved in yet either?
Rich: Okay, all right.
Laurie: I mean in some cases, some people are already living in an apartment, they want to get Section 8 subsidy there. That’s another story, but if you want to rent to somebody, they’re looking at your apartment, the majority, most of the time apartments pass. I mean we’re finding landlords, they’re turning over their apartments. They want to get it ready for rental and it passes. Majority of our families are renting from landlords that are familiar with us, so they know what’s going on and what we’re looking for.
Rich: Sure, and so the tenants, too?
Laurie: And the tenants.
Rich: If they’ve been in the program, they’re aware of what’s going to come up in the inspection. So like today is November 18, so if I have something that wasn’t right, it didn’t pass inspection, but we’re looking at a move in for December 1st.
Laurie: It’s a possibility.
Rich: I can get that fixed up and we’d be okay, right?
Laurie: You call the inspection company and say, “Yeah, I need a reinspection of my unit, and you ‑
Rich: Does that take days, weeks, or months?
Laurie: Well they have to get it scheduled in and it can take within a week usually.
Rich: [unintelligible 0:06:14].
Laurie: We usually have – it depends especially the end of the month is usually crunch time. Everybody wants their apartment inspected.
Laurie: So we try to make sure the inspection company is aware of that, and they get people out there. They try to do their regular annual inspections at the beginning of the month to save room at the end of the month for landlords who say hey, I’m ready. I want somebody to come out.
Rich: Sure. That makes sense. Well one good thing that’s really good, I think about the inspections is that Doug was talking about the free rent trick earlier, right, where somebody said breaks something, kicks a hole in the screen or whatever and then says that the place is screwed up and they don’t have to pay their rent. Everyone is aware that there are some people who do this stuff? Well, there’s a Section 8 inspection on Thursday, and next Wednesday there’s something is broken, it’s really only in your favor to have had that inspection done because they’re like look everything was fine last Thursday according to this Section 8 inspection, so everything was fine when we moved in. Is that pretty accurate?
Laurie: Sure. I mean you can use that to present to the tenant. The other thing the inspections do, the annual inspections do at least is that it will actually identify if there’s a tenant charge. They’ll say tenant charge, meaning it’s the opinion of the inspector that this is tenant damage, so it alerts the landlord to say, “Okay, there’s a broken window and obviously it’s not just wear and tear. It’s a tenant charge.” So whatever you have in your lease about repairs and replacement, you can send the bill to the tenant and say this is tenant charge. How you collect it? Again, that’s just how you do with your regular landlords and management that way. However, it is a good tool to use the inspections.
Rich: Okay, cool. Can you tell us a little bit about they calculate how much an apartment is worth?
Rich: You can’t?
Laurie: I’m kidding [laughter].
Rich: You tricked me.
Laurie: Yeah, just a little. Okay, so I know you had a question about payment standards and you hear all this stuff. Section 8, there’s regulations around Section 8 and the calculation is extremely complicated. It’s more complicated than the IRS and somebody once said that. I mean this is top officials. What staff has to go through to calculate certain things, it’s not just it’s this, this, and this and that’s it. So in order to determine rents so you want to determine rents first, we have to determine what you’re requesting for rent. We have to determine rent reasonableness.
What we do is look at what the current market is. It’s a day-to-day thing. Everything changes day-to-day. The market changes day-to-day, so we don’t just use something that we did a survey a year ago and say okay that’s where – we’re looking at the current market. Springtime might be different than fall time, and what we’re doing is we’re looking in the area of where your apartment is located and we’re looking at the size, the type, the amenities.
So when we want to determine your rent reasonableness, we plug this into it’s a program that we have and that we have a contract with. It’s a HUD-approved program that we plug your apartment and information in it. We have an amenities sheet that we have you fill out so you can give us every little detail that you can about your apartment. We can rate it compared to the current market out there, and that’s what determines rent reasonable. You might ask for a really crazy outrageous price and say that’s what I want, we’re like this is what the market is. We’re not going to give you something that the market doesn’t show.
We also have to do an affordability test. We have to determine how much rent a tenant can afford, so we have to determine they pay no less than 30 percent of their monthly income, they can’t pay any higher than 40 percent of their monthly-adjusted income. So we have to take that into the calculations.
We also use what is called the payment standard. The payment standard is derived from the HUD’s published fair market rent. HUD comes out every year, publishes the fair market rent for the area. The housing authority has to set the payment standard to be 90 to 110 percent of that payment standard. We can’t go below 90. We can’t go above 110, so the payment standard is usually most housing authorities have set it at just around the 100 percent mark. That’s what ours is currently; it’s 100 of the fair market rent, so what we do is we take the payment standard, subtract the tenant’s 30 percent of their monthly adjusted income, it comes out to the maximum share that we can pay toward their rent. And then, from there, we have to determine our portion, their 40 percent because they can’t go over it to determine what you’re asking for to see if it exceeds it.
Am I complicating now? Does that sound really complicated? It is. We have formulas to do all of it, but that’s what it is and it takes a lot to ‑
Rich: So you can get market rents for your apartment, right, for more?
Laurie: You can get market rates, yeah. You can possibly get more. What happens is some families cannot afford the market rent, even though we might say you’re looking for $1,000 for this three-bedroom and we say yeah, rent reasonable. But the family, based on all the calculations we do, we can’t go above $950, so we’ll contact the landlord and say are you willing to negotiate to come down to $950? Yes, your apartment was worth $1,000 but this particular family can’t afford any more than $950 and you can either say yay or nay. If you say yay, then we negotiate. We get the inspection going. If you say, “No, I’m sorry,” then we just have to deny the request.
Rich: Okay, so what if one of our tenants using the program misbehaves? Are we on our own? Do we get some kind of support from the Worcester Housing Authority? What would we – I mean I’m sure this never happens but I’m just saying if it did, what would the procedure be?
Laurie: Well, you don’t pay us to be your property manager, so we’re not going to manage your properties. Does that answer it?
Rich: Sure, it does, Laurie.
Laurie: Okay, so what happens is this is your property, you own it. You’re the landlord, you need to manage your properties. So your tenant is misbehaving, what would you do if they weren’t Section 8? So you do the same thing.
Rich: That’s a great way to look at it, so.
Laurie: So it’s no different. You’re going to treat your Section 8 tenants like you do your market tenants. If you’re going to take your non-market tenants to court because they’re disruptive and destroying your property, you’re going to do the same thing with Section 8.
Male Audience 2: Is there a voucher?
Laurie: Yes, it does.
Rich: The question was does it jeopardize your voucher and so they have some incentive to not misbehave?
Laurie: Correct, yes. Yes, they know that if they get evicted for a lease violation, if you take them to court, you evict them, you win. Now they have to face us. In most cases, they end up losing their voucher.
Rich: And how long would they normally be able to keep a voucher if they were on good behavior?
Laurie: right now, there is no time limit.
Laurie: So I mean there’s families that have been on it for a very long time, but then there’s families that are off and on the program 5, 7 years depending so I don’t want to take away from the families that gets self-sufficient, they go. They move on. They get jobs. They move on, but there are families ‑ our elderly and disabled, the elderly stay on, the disabled stay on for life. I mean it’s usually or until…
Rich: So that’s good news for us because that’s a stable source of income.
Laurie: It is.
Rich: If it were as if the Fannie disappeared in a year, we might have an issue replacing that tenant in a year, so we’re going to open up the questions here in a minute if that’s okay. But is there anything that ‑ do you have one or two things that you would want to communicate to a group of landlords?
Laurie: Okay, so I had a staff meeting today. The staff is 17, and I asked them a question. I told them I’m coming here tonight and one of the question is if there was one thing that I could say – well I can say a lot more than one thing – but it there was one thing we can tell our landlords.
Rich: We try to keep it family friendly.
Laurie: Yeah, I know. So, my thing that I always tell landlords when I do property owner meetings is you need to manage your properties. We have so many absentee landlords that they purchase properties. It’s a money thing and they’re absentee, and then there’s a problem and they call us. You need to manage your properties. You need to make sure ‑ it’s a job. It’s a business. It’s not a hobby, and you have money invested in this. You need to manage your properties. That’s my biggest advice to landlords.
Rich: It is however way more fun to blame the Worcester Housing Authority‑
Rich: If we have a problem now.
Laurie: Absolutely, absolutely.
Laurie: So these few things that my staff was just shooting out to me and I said okay I’ll run by. Screen your tenants. Know your tenant’s name. I know that sounds really funny, but we have so many landlords that will call and say, “Yeah, that tenant…”
“All right, what’s your tenant’s name?
“I don’t know. They’re in that apartment. Can’t you look it up?” [laughter].
Rich: Oh, my!
Laurie: Yes. Yeah, that’s ‑ really it’s a big thing.
Rich: Sorry about that.
Laurie: Know who’s in your units. We’ll call a landlord saying, “Did we just hear that someone might have their boyfriend there?”
“I don’t know who’s there.”
“What? You don’t know…okay, all right.”
Rich: I just took a picture of a mailbox this morning at one of my buildings.
Laurie: There you go.
Rich: Somebody else put somebody else’s name on there. I’m going to find out who that is.
Laurie: Good for you. You should, right?
Rich: Thank you.
Laurie: Let’s see. Read your HAP contract. If you enter into a Section 8 HAP contract, read it. So many times landlords will call us about things and we’ll say, “Well, it’s in your HAP contract.”
“I didn’t read it.” Okay.
Maintain your properties, just maintain them. All you have to do is maintain them. That’s all we ask for. If you maintain your apartments, then when we inspect it on an annual basis, we can pass it.
Know the eviction process and take action. Landlords will call us up. “Okay, I got this tenant. You need to do something with them.”
No, we don’t. You’re not paying us. We’re not lawyers. We’re not going to give you advice, but you need to take action. Know the eviction process. Know what you need to do and take action. Don’t wait 6 months until a tenant hasn’t paid their rent. Landlords, I mean you have a soft heart. “Yeah, I don’t want to bother them. They had car problem. They were sick. They were this and they didn’t pay their rent this month and now it’s 6 months.” Even if their portion is $100, after 6 months, that’s $600. That might not be a lot for everybody in this room to come up with all of a sudden $600, but for somebody whose 30 percent of their monthly income is only $100 a month, $600 is an awful lot of money.
Rich: If I saw $100 on the ground, I wouldn’t want to pick it after 6 months.
Laurie: Okay [laughter].
Rich: I’ll likely pick it up.
Laurie: What happens ‑
Rich: It sounds a good point.
Laurie: I mean so what happens is, send out your 14-day notices. You’ll get a better chance of getting it right away. If you send out your 14-day notices as soon as they’re late in their rent, even if you think the tenant is great, at least follow through. You have to follow through. There’s a better chance that you’re going to get your money and you’re going to keep your tenant, too.
Male Audience 2: A copy of the notice, you said?
Laurie: Yeah. We need a copy. Anytime you have a Section 8 tenant, take copies of any evictions or notices. They need to go to the housing authority as well.
Rich: That is valuable.
Laurie: Very valuable. If you don’t, they get legal assistance and legal assistance finds out that the housing authority was not notified, it gets thrown out of court, so you just wasted your time.
Audience: [unintelligible 0:18:46].
Rich: Yes, say that again.
Male Audience 3: [unintelligible 0:18:49] [laughter].
Laurie: Okay, so if you have a Section 8 family and you send them out an eviction notice, a 14-day notice, an eviction, and you did not send the housing authority a copy of that. You start taking them to court, and they obtained legal assistance and they go to court. They find out, the legal assistance finds out that you did not notify the housing authority, they automatically get it thrown out of court and then you have to start all over again.
Audience: [unintelligible 0:19:20].
Laurie: It’s in the contract. Read the contract.
Male Audience 4: Read the contract.
Laurie: No, no. If ‑
Male Audience 4: Read the contract about it.
Laurie: Because if we don’t know what’s going on, how are we supposed to take any action?
Male Audience 4: Thank you.
Laurie: Right, so very valuable.
Rich: I’m really glad that you came in. You’re sharing your perspective on this. It sounds like the housing authority, if I may say are just check-printing machines and we get to keep the money. We just have to manage our business, which is what we decide when we bought the property we were going to do, right?
Laurie: Yeah, direct deposit, too.
Rich: It might be fun to complain about them. It’s not their job.
Laurie: You do?
Rich: No. I don’t complain about the checks.
Rich: No, no. We don’t have any complaints about that part, right? No.
Rich: Has anybody noticed that like when the judges come, they say serve a 14-day notice quickly, they say be on top of the stuff. Is anybody noticing a theme? These are people that we generally think don’t listen to this. These are people that we generally think are anti-landlord. Isn’t that true?
Rich: Like we think the legal system is stacked against us because in some aspects it is. We think Section 8 has been our enemy. Isn’t that true sometimes, too?
Rich: No? Okay, well ‑
Sandra: Tell us about the ‑
Laurie: Thank you, Sandra.
Rich: Thank you. You’re not hearing it from me. I enjoy getting the checks but some people have had bad experiences and they have associated it with the housing authority when you very well could have gotten a bad tenant who wasn’t on subsidized housing, right? We have to manage our properties, okay.
Laurie: The other thing that my staff wanted to make sure you know is don’t tell a searching tenant that you don’t take Section 8. Just keep yourself out of trouble. Please go to www.gosection8.com to list your available apartments. We have over 400 families out there searching, actively searching right now, looking for one-, two-, three-bedroom apartments.
Female Audience 1: What’s that address again?
Laurie: There’s plenty on the table. These little postcards, gosection8.com.
Rich: That’s awesome.
Laurie: You got the little postcards. It’s free service. You can pay for an additional service to have extra stuff, but just to list your apartment, you can go on to this gosection8.com. Please list your apartments. We need landlords. We love our landlords, and we want to educate our landlords. And so, we’ll do whatever we can to help you through the process and thank you.
Rich: Awesome. You had mentioned so don’t tell people that you don’t take Section 8. In case that wasn’t obvious to anybody here, would you mind as there are some new people who might not know why that is?
Audience: Yeah [unintelligible 0:22:20].
Laurie: It’s discrimination.
Laurie: In the State of Massachusetts, it’s discrimination to discriminate against somebody because of a form of income, and they say that Section 8 is a form of income. That’s what they’ve categorized it, so if you say I don’t take Section 8 or I won’t take Section 8, you can land yourself a discrimination charge.
Rich: And that’s not a good idea.
Laurie: That’s not a good idea, and so many landlords to this day continue to do that. They will a tenant on the phone, “No, I’m sorry. I don’t take Section 8.” Right there. All they have to do is call them CAD or get legal assistance, they make the same phone call that they may just did to you and they hear those words, you just got slapped with a discrimination charge.
Rich: All right, so we’re going to take a couple of questions. You still have a question?
Female Audience 2: No.
Rich: Okay. Anything that’s not incriminating?
Female Audience 2: Yeah. Because they ask do you take Section 8, so I said no. I didn’t even know that’s fine.
Laurie: Yeah. You can’t ‑
Rich: That would be incriminating. We would be trying to avoid.
Laurie: Right, right. Don’t say it.
Male Audience 5: Yeah, I have a few tenants that are Section 8, but I don’t understand this new program that has first month, last month a security deposit, RCAP Solution just to get the tenant inside and then they’re on their own as far as I understand.
Rich: Andy is introducing our next speaker, [unintelligible 0:23:55]. The next fellow is actually from RCAP Solutions, so he’s actually going to cover that stuff, so that was almost a very good segue.
Male Audience 6: When we copy on the 14-day notice, do you, as a courtesy to the landlord threaten the tenant remind then they’re going to lose their voucher?
Laurie: We do for 14-day notices.
Male Audience 6: Okay.
Laurie: We don’t do for other evictions. If you’re sending them out a 30-day notice for other lease violations. But one of the biggest violation is usually the nonpayment of rent, so what we do if you send us a copy of your 14-day notice, we send them out a warning letter just a nice warning letter saying, “Hey, by the way, if you get evicted, you’re losing your voucher.” That’s why I mean send us a copy and then we’ll send it right out to your tenant.
Male Audience 6: So they lose the voucher from [unintelligible 0:24:50] because that’s what’s it’s going to be?
Laurie: They can lose their voucher for program violations. So if we find out that they’re violating the program, our rules. We can terminate their subsidy. We would send you out a notice letting you know that there’s an intention of terminating your tenant subsidies, so it gives you a warning and then once we do decide to terminate their subsidy, we give you a 30-day notice telling you we’re terminating their subsidy. We will terminate their subsidy for violations that usually they could be violent criminal-related activity, drug-related activity, and then other violations – unauthorized people in the household, unreported income. Those two we usually try to remedy in-house. We have a public safety department. We’ll investigate fraud if you contact ‑ a landlord can contact us and we’ll investigate something. But it has to be something that is solid. We can’t just go, “Oh, that person saw these people are coming and going.” We don’t do that.
We’re not going to sit out in front of your house and do surveillance. But if you have some good information like you got names on a mailbox and you’ve seen the same guy coming and going every day, leaves at 7:00, comes home at 7:00, has a car, this is his license plate. You give us those few items, we send it to Public Safety. It might take a little while a month or so surveillance, but if we find that there’s unauthorized, we pull them in.
Female Audience 3: Thank you. Question: if I have a unit that I want to present to you for Section 8 tenant and you come and do your inspection and it doesn’t pass, I choose to not want to bring it up to your standard or whatever, is that now discrimination?
Laurie: No, it’s not. It’s your choice.
Female Audience 3: No? Okay.
Rich: That was a great question. I think we have time for one more. Laurie, are you going to be able to hang around if folks have additional questions?
Laurie: A little bit. I don’t know what ‑
Rich: I’ve just put you in a spot in front of a roomful of people.
Laurie: Yeah. Just a little bit.
Male Audience 7: When you go through the annual inspection and you’ve got a tenant in there already, if you for some reason don’t pass on something and it takes you a couple of few weeks to do. Do you lose that month’s rent or is that restored once the inspection comes through?
Laurie: Okay, that’s a good question. We do the annual inspection. It fails. You get 30 days to complete those items. You get a complete list. The reinspection is automatically scheduled in 35 days, so you technically get a few extra days but the letter says you have 30 days to complete it. The inspection is automatically scheduled. We come back out there in 35 days. If it fails that inspection, so that’s the reinspection, we’re going to send you out a letter telling you that as of the first of the following month, you’re going to be abated, which means we’re going to stop your rent until it passes. So if it was reinspected today, you’ll get a notice in the mail, telling you as of December 1, we’re going to stop your payment. If it passes on the 6th, then you’ll get your payment in January retroactive to the 6th but you lose 5 days’ rent. Clear?
Rich: All right, so take care of the place, get the things taken cared of quickly.
Laurie: Take care of the place, yes.
Rich: And you guys will continue to send the checks.
Laurie: We’ll send the checks. We have money. We do.
Rich: All right, fantastic! Let’s hear it for Laurie Matowski [applause].
Laurie: Thank you.