By Theresa Walker / Orange County Register
Incentives are part of the WelcomeHomeOC effort to address homelessness.
The math seems a no-brainer.
On one side, landlords, property managers and others who belong to the Apartment Association of Orange County control more than 85,000 rental units around the county.
On the other, about 100 individuals and families who have struggled with homelessness– but recently have been issued federally-subsidized vouchers to pay their rent — have been referred to United Way Orange County’s WelcomeHomeOC program. The vouchers can get people off the streets, out of shelters and into a place to call home. And the WelcomeHomeOC program is supposed to help them in that search.
Surely, somewhere among those 85,000 units, shouldn’t there be room for the 100?
Maybe not. The problem is finding a landlord willing to rent to them.
All too often, would-be tenants spend months searching to no avail. Worse, the federal vouchers are good only for four months. If a person can’t find a place to live in that time, that golden ticket can expire. Extensions can be granted, but it’s up to the issuing housing authority.
Advocates for the homeless blame fear. They say it’s hard for landlords to look beyond stereotypes about homeless people. And, many note, there are legitimate concerns over the red tape that comes with HUD’s guidelines. Plus, the county’s housing market is tight, so it’s not hard to find a tenant who’ll pay full freight without needing a federal booster check.
It’s an equation that WelcomeHomeOC — a public-private initiative that includes landlords, county housing officials and homeless service providers — hopes to solve.
Call for more vouchers, more units
Money is part of the answer. WelcomeHomeOC, which kicked off with $250,000 from the county and $600,000 from United Way, does offer financial incentives (along with other assurances) to get landlords to house people deemed “chronically homeless” by the county.
Since March, when WelcomeHomeOC launched this landlord outreach, the group has housed 47 people in 32 units. Those rents are subsidized by vouchers issued through the Orange County Housing Authority and the Santa Ana Housing Authority. Another 28 voucher-holding clients are still looking.
More than 20 landlords have bought in. The challenge is finding more.
The Apartment Association of Orange County is now a partner in WelcomeHomeOC. David Cordero, the organization’s executive director, pledged to talk with landlords about the importance of “bridging the housing gap for our most vulnerable population.”