When Orange County received a record number of federal housing vouchers last year, it was seen as a major step toward solving the local homelessness crisis.

But since then, it has been difficult for voucher holders to find available homes in the county’s competitive market. With the expiry date of the vouchers approaching, officials are scrambling to find solutions.

This week, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley held a briefing with other county officials to address the challenges facing the county housing authority as it tries to rent the rest of his housing vouchers before the expiration date. The main obstacle is the lack of owners willing to accept the vouchers.

OC Supervisor Katrina Foley held an information session this week to discuss how to engage landlords in the emergency housing voucher program.

(Ben Brazil screenshot)

Foley said the county has received an “unprecedented” number of housing vouchers from the federal government, but must now encourage local landlords to work with the county to help fill the vouchers before they expire Dec. 31.

“If fully utilized, emergency housing vouchers can help us end homelessness,” Foley said.

The vouchers were part of the American Rescue Plan Act, in which the federal government provided approximately 70,000 vouchers to nearly 700 public housing authorities across the country. Orange County received more than 1,000 vouchers which were distributed among the county’s four housing authorities. Orange County Housing Authority received 557, Anaheim received 278, Garden Grove received 117, and Santa Ana received 89.

The vouchers are intended to “help individuals and families who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, fleeing or attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, harassment or human trafficking, or who have recently been homeless or are at high risk of housing instability.

Julia Bidwell, director of housing and community development for Orange County, said the authority has received 421 referrals for vouchers so far. However, 140 of the voucher holders have been connected to accommodation, with another 26 “rentals” currently on hold. There are 188 emergency voucher holders looking for accommodation in the county housing authority’s voucher pool.

“Well, that’s a lot of work we have to do,” Foley said in response to the numbers.

David Cordero, Managing Director of Apartment Assn. of Orange County, said landowners have never wanted to get involved in federal housing programs because they are reluctant to deal with government bureaucracy.

However, Cordero said, many organizations are involved in the voucher process, so owners aren’t just dealing with “one large government institution.”

The nonprofit partners with the county for the Emergency Housing Voucher Program and represents more than 2,000 rental property owners, operators and providers in Orange and Riverside counties, according to its website.

“Really, it’s about making this as easy as possible for housing providers,” Cordero said. “The support network that exists not only for tenants, but also for landlords, really makes things very easy.”

Other local organizations assist voucher holders in finding accommodation. Bidwell said the county has partnered with service providers to help voucher holders navigate the housing market, including Human Options, Mercy House, PATH, Families Forward and Orange County United Way. These partners can also provide assistance with other costs associated with the rental, including move-in or security deposits.

Last month, the county also tried to attract more landlords by raising bond payment standards to 120% of fair market rent. Bidwell said this benefits landlords and voucher holders because it brings rent closer to market value and increases voucher holders’ “buying power” because there are more eligible locations.

Initially, voucher holders are responsible for 30% of the rent and the county covers the rest. That may adjust over time, but voucher holders will never pay more than 40% of their earnings, Bidwell said.

Officials said the program is desirable for many homeowners because it provides a steady stream of income and is low risk due to government support.

Homeless people live outside a cultural center in Santa Ana.

Homeless people live outside a cultural center in Santa Ana.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Doug Becht, director of the county’s care coordination office, said another benefit for landlords is that the county is working with the Family Solutions Collaborative to help families acclimate to their new homes. This coalition of homeless service providers can mediate when there is a problem between tenants and landlords.

“If there is a traffic accident, you have professional service, both for the housekeeper and the owner, to really mitigate or be there to bridge the gap between the two parties,” he said. he declares.

United to End Homelessness, a program of Orange County United Way, received 475 county housing authority vouchers. Becks Heyhoe, executive director of United to End Homelessness, told the briefing that the organization offers a number of incentives for landlords, including double security deposits, bonuses once the lease is signed, a mitigation fund damages and detention costs so that the owner does not lose potential income.

In order to involve owners in the voucher program, Heyhoe said the organization went door-to-door, advertised and engaged in online recruitment activities. United to End Homelessness has also asked community members to contact them if they see any “for rent” signs.

“So as soon as we know this is a unit that meets rent reasonableness and we have a customer in our pipeline, which is a pretty strong guarantee that we’ll have someone who can take advantage of that unit, we start paying the holding fee,” Heyhoe said. “So an owner doesn’t lose any revenue that they might have had if they put this unit on the market. until this lease is signed, then we offer a double security deposit.

“If something goes wrong, which honestly doesn’t happen that often, we have a damage mitigation fund to cover that. And we’ll give you a bonus for signing a lease with us, and if something goes a little awry while the tenant adjusts, you have the support of the agency providing the support as well as Orange County United Way.”

In a previous interview, Heyhoe mentioned that it was difficult to find open units for emergency voucher holders in Orange County due to a lack of availability.

Heyhoe, like many in the industry, argued the county needs more permanent supportive housing to meet the goal of ending homelessness. She supports the county’s plan to build 2,700 more permanent supportive housing units, widely seen as the key to ending chronic homelessness, over the next few years. A 2017 study by UC Irvine, Jamboree Housing, and Orange County United Way found that it costs twice as much for someone to live on the streets than to house them.

The county committed in 2018 to add 2,700 permanent supportive housing units by June 2025. So far, 395 permanent supportive housing units have been completed toward that goal. 559 others are under construction and 350 other units are being financed. The public can follow the county’s progress online. According to the latest countywide homeless count in 2019, there were 6,860 homeless people in the county.

Also reinforcing the urgency to quickly house the homeless, 397 homeless people died last year in Orange County – more than any other year in its history.

A police officer speaks with a homeless man staying at Balboa Pier.

A police officer speaks with a homeless man staying at Balboa Pier.

(Raul Roa)

As the county works to attract more landlords to get involved in the program, the other three housing authorities also face a competitive housing market in their own cities. Of the 89 vouchers issued to it, Santa Ana issued 54 vouchers and linked 16 to housing, city spokesman Paul Eakins said. Of the 278 vouchers given to him, Anaheim has awarded 270 and 80 are currently being used to house people, city spokeswoman Erin Ryan said.

Danny Huynh, housing director for the Garden Grove Housing Authority, said in a phone interview this week that the city has so far rented about 30 of its 117 total bonds. He said nearly all the vouchers have been awarded, but voucher holders have to navigate a ‘tough market’ and companies generally only like to get involved in the voucher program when the housing market is down. .

“When the housing market is so hot and they can attract people with really extraordinarily high rents, they prefer to go with them without negotiating with us,” he said. “So I think that’s one of the issues for EVH holders, but really for voucher holders in general.”

Huynh said the city is concerned about the impending expiration date of the emergency vouchers. However, he thinks the federal government will show leniency as they want the vouchers to be used. He said the Garden Grove Housing Authority had yet to do anything to incentivize landlords because it could be unfair to people who hold other types of housing vouchers in the city.

“They are competing for the same market,” he said. “We don’t want a landlord to say, ‘Emergency vouchers will get me an extra $500. Well, your usual vouchers wouldn’t. This would make it even more difficult for regular voucher holders.

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