Rent SubsidiesSome areas of the United States are seeing a glut of vacant rental properties. With increased competition for a decreasing number of tenants, many landlords are trying to entice applicants with goodies such as appliance upgrades or one or more months of free rent. Other landlords are willing to accept less rent for their units than they did in better times, when demand was up.

By some accounts, high vacancy rates and low rents will continue through the end of this year, when the jobs market is expected to begin to recover. This is bleak news for investors in residential rental properties, particularly for those who do not seize all available opportunities to fill their rental units. One such opportunity is in the form of prospective tenants who receive rental assistance through government programs. Due to biased opinions and generalizations, some landlords refuse to consider renting to such tenants. This is a costly mistake.

Section 8 Program

The largest and most well known rental assistance program is the “Section 8” housing voucher program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The amount of the voucher, or subsidy, that is granted is based on how much rent the tenant can pay in the private market. The program is designed to help families, the elderly, and the disabled whose incomes fall below 30 to 80% of the median income in the particular area.

HUD sets the fair market rental amounts each year in metropolitan areas and non-metropolitan counties for units depending on how many bedrooms a unit has. Usually, the fair market rent is set at an amount that is enough to pay rent and utilities at 40% of recently rented units in an area (but not including new units).

There are 28 metropolitan areas for which HUD has determined that 40% is not enough to allow voucher holders to rent housing outside a few low-cost neighborhoods; for those 28 areas, HUD sets the fair market rent on the basis of 50% of the recently rented units. Because HUD is not quick to lower the fair market rental amounts it has already set, landlords may find that the amount of rent approved by the Section 8 program in their areas exceeds the amounts that other landlords are asking.

A landlord can count on receiving a Section 8 check each month because the money comes directly from the government. Moreover, it is difficult for applicants to obtain Section 8 assistance. As a result, many tenants who receive it are highly motivated to fulfill their obligations under a lease for fear of losing their subsidy.

Other Rental Assistance Programs

State and local government housing agencies administer the Section 8 program. Some states and municipalities have rental assistance programs of their own, and the eligibility criteria track that of the Section 8 program. These are some examples:

Connecticut– The Rental Assistance Program of the Department of Social Services is the state’s principal program for assisting families with very low incomes in paying for safe and clean housing in the private market.

New Jersey– The State Rental Assistance Program, administered by the Department of Community Affairs is similar to the Section 8 program in eligibility criteria and operation. It includes set-asides for qualifying families as well as homeless, elderly, and disabled individuals.

Oregon– The HOME Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program is administered by Community Action Agency Centers. Those who qualify receive housing assistance in renewable six-month or one-year terms; the assistance may include a refundable security deposit.

Due Diligence Prevents Tenant Problems

Landlords can overcome their hesitation about renting to low-income tenants by doing their due diligence before agreeing to rent to them. This means using the same process that they use for any other prospective tenant: proper screening,.

If a prospect with a rental subsidy passes the screening, the landlord can fill a vacant rental unit with a paying tenant and ride out the negative rental market.