In a new initiative, Atlanta Housing (AH) is offering 2,000 subsidized rent vouchers to landlords to expand the city’s affordable housing supply.
AH will begin soliciting landlords of planned and existing complexes across the city to participate in the project-based voucher program. By designating a portion of their apartments for low-income renters who rely on federal rent subsidies, they’ll receive a steady income stream, the public housing authority told Atlanta Civic Circle.
The agency will issue an online notice to property owners and developers that it’s offering public funding through the new project-based rent vouchers “to support the delivery of new affordable units within the city of Atlanta,” AH spokesperson Jeff Dickerson said in an email.
Unlike standard Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers, which AH awards directly to low-income renters to cover rent wherever landlords will accept them, the project-based vouchers are tied to specific properties. Property owners approved for the new vouchers must execute a 20-year Housing Assistance Payment contract with the housing authority to guarantee that they’re creating housing that’s long-term affordable.
One attractive feature of the project-based vouchers for landlords is the higher income ceiling for tenants. Many landlords refuse to rent to tenants who rely on government help, partly because of a perceived stigma in inviting low-income people to live alongside tenants paying market rates.
To qualify for one of the subsidized units, tenant households must earn less than 80% of the area median income (about $77,000 for a family of four). By contrast, Housing Choice—or Section 8—vouchers are typically for people making below 50% of area median income. Both programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through local housing authorities like AH.
Like Housing Choice vouchers, the project-based vouchers will cover most of the rent for tenants. “Eligible residents will pay no more than 30% of their adjusted gross income in rent, and Atlanta Housing pays the difference between the tenant rent and the contract rent,” Dickerson said.
AH is introducing the property-based vouchers to encourage higher quality properties charging market rents to accept tenants who use federal subsidies—including new properties under development. By contrast, complexes that are entirely for Section 8 renters can be poorly maintained, as the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s “Dangerous Dwellings” investigation revealed.
In a tight rental market where affordable housing is scarce, many people who’ve obtained Section 8 vouchers through AH’s Housing Choice Voucher Program can’t find a place that will rent to them. And the need for subsidized housing is high: AH has a waitlist of around 25,000 people for housing choice vouchers.
One local housing expert, Georgia State University sociology professor Deirdre Oakley, told Atlanta Civic Circle she’s skeptical that AH can entice enough landlords to participate in its new initiative to create 2,000 new government-subsidized rentals.
“We already know that people who are lucky enough to get a tenant-based voucher are having a difficult time leasing because of the pervasive gentrification going on,” she said, nodding to the multifamily developers in the current market who are producing far more luxury apartments than affordable housing units.
Dickerson, however, said AH believes the prospect of reliable rental income from the government will attract buy-in from landlords.
“Owners and developers seeking funding for their affordable projects find Atlanta Housing’s project-based vouchers extremely helpful in sustaining their operation, due to the long-term commitment of a 20-year contract,” he said, adding that the rent subsidies increase annually with operating costs.
Dickerson said landlords at existing properties who sign project-based voucher contracts could begin offering the affordable rentals within a year. For new construction, he added, it will take at least 18 months.