Beyond humanitarian motivations, empty apartments are costly and redundant.
One early morning in January, a homeless veteran awoke on the freezing streets of Dallas, breath visible and hands rubbing together in search of frictional heat.
He needed housing, and an apartment was open to him with owners more than happy to accommodate him. The space between the two? Bureaucracy.
Ian Mattingly of LumaCorp, an apartment management company in Dallas, is all too familiar with the struggles, the shell game of public opinion and reality that surrounds it in his hometown. If the wishes of some City Council members come true, and the right of property owners to set a proportion of conventional residents versus low-income residents applying via the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) is taken away, things could get much worse.
Recently, along with Matthew Haines of the Tangent Group, Mattingly was interviewed for The Dallas Observer regarding the challenges and the risks that face him and others in Dallas’ rental housing marketplace, as well as the apartment industry in Dallas, should a proposition be approved as contemplated by members of the City Council.
The rental housing industry is not averse to leasing affordable housing to low-income residents; in fact, it wants to help. Beyond humanitarian motivations, empty units are costly and redundant. Rather, administrative burdens, bureaucratic indifference and the heightened hazard of financial irregularities add obstacles and risk to the application process.
Mattingly works with roughly a dozen of Texas’ 413 Housing Authorities, and can attest to the serious bureaucratic burden in doing so. While some have processes amenable to email, the practice is inconsistent and certain offices and case workers are less than stellar about timely follow-up.
Start to Finish, Voucher Application a Three-Week Process
This inevitably lengthens the amount of time an average DHA voucher recipient is waiting before moving in, as well as how long an apartment remains empty. In Mattingly’s estimation, even in a perfect world where each piece of minutia is dealt with as efficiently as possible, it would still take a DHA voucher applicant three weeks from start to finish to get keys in their hands. That is a bad deal on both sides of the table, putting needless space between an owner/operator and a prospective resident, as well as between a low-income resident and their future home.
Further, while the vouchers are meant to reflect a fair market rent, those levels are set in November, effective in January and stay static through an entire year without consideration for community enhancement programs or market-rent growth; the latter lately has been as high as 10 percent at some communities in Dallas.
Cuts to public housing funding also represent a severe risk. When the funding to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is cut back, such as in the Sequestration of 2011, the cuts to DHA’s payments may be passed along directly to owners/operators, even in the middle of a lease term. Without recourse to manage their risk, businesses facing those cuts are looking at impending disaster.
Before any of these risks can even be considered, however, an applicant and an owner/operator must complete the rigorous and often opaque application process. This involves first applying to the owner/operator, then to the DHA, then beginning a lengthy communication process between the case worker, the management company and the Authority’s administration.
A quoted rent is given to the applicant, who then gives it to DHA, which then gets to study that number against area statistics for palatability. DHA then communicates back to the owner whether they will pay it or if they will cut the number based on their findings. From there, the owners will work with the applicant on the terms of the lease, the applicant will work with the Authority on the terms of the voucher and then the three parties must all enter the lease together.
The entire process is bloated, redundant and needs reform. Mattingly points to other federal assistance programs such as SNAP and TANF as examples of better systems that put power in the hands of the recipient of the aid, rather than bureaucrats and administrators.
Oh, about that homeless veteran? Thankfully, after 10 grueling weeks of cutting at red tape, Haines was finally able to hand him the keys to a new home; a new lease, if you’ll forgive the pun, on life.
Tommy Herbert is Communications Manager for NAA.