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Why aren’t Atlanta landlords renting to Section 8 tenants?

Sonam Vashi
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Sonam Vashi

This story is the second in this month’s mini-series about the Section 8 program, which uses federal dollars to fund vouchers for private-market housing, in metro Atlanta. Our first story focused on the perspective of tenants who’ve had trouble finding housing; next, I’ll be covering what Atlanta area governments could do to help. Comments, ideas, or questions? Email sonam@saportareport.com.

Property manager Venis Sims knows the right ways to deal with each housing authority to get the quickest results: Fulton County Housing Authority is efficient with email; Atlanta Housing’s automated portal works best; you need to drop by in-person to Jonesboro and get to know people.

Jim Lester, who manages nearly 100 Section 8–rented properties, knows that if you get a rent assessment from a housing authority that’s lower than you’d like, you have to send it back to appeal four times; then, you might get a higher one.

These tips and tricks are how landlords and property managers navigate multiple housing authorities, who have to administer the federal Section 8 voucher program in local jurisdictions with the complex regulations that come with using federal dollars. But in some cities, not enough landlords are participating in the program, choosing instead to rent housing to market-rate tenants.

Single-family residences in Atlanta. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last fall, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development department toured the country, hosting a series of sessions to listen why landlords don’t like the program. Atlanta, where tenants using vouchers struggle to find adequate housing, was its first stop. Research published last year examined how many landlords avoid renting to Section 8 tenants. In my interviews with nearly a dozen landlords, they describe unreliable inspections, bureaucracy, and plain discrimination against Section 8 tenants.

Many landlords like the guaranteed income associated with the Section 8 (under the program, a family with a voucher pays 30% of its income on rent, and the government pays the difference to the landlord). But dealing with multiple jurisdictions as a larger property manager can be confusing and cumbersome. “Jurisdictions need to get on the same sheet of music,” says Sims, who owns Edgewood Realty Group and manages about 40 properties in metro Atlanta, about a fourth of which are rented to Section 8 voucher holders.

Mike Nelson, president of Excalibur Homes, says there are 15 different housing authorities across the metro area. “That means you have to be familiar with 15 different ways of managing the program,” he says.

The housing inspection process, where a housing authority inspector makes sure a home meets certain regulations before a tenant moves in, can be capricious and depend on the particular inspector, landlords say. Multiple people I interviewed mentioned the same, specific example: failing an inspection because electrical outlets might have some paint on them.

“When they say jump, the only acceptable answer is ‘how high,'” Lester says of the inspection process.

For many landlords, failing an inspection can take up additional time and money—losing a month of rental income can be disastrous for a landlord’s business—and they say it can be too unreliable, turning them instead to market-rate tenants. “From the landlord’s perspective, it’s all about dollars and cents,” Nelson says.

Atlanta Housing, the city’s public housing authority, has recently focused addressing some of these concerns, using a landlord advisory board to guide changes. Now, multifamily-unit landlords can start a lease with a new tenant if they self-certify the unit, letting the inspections come later to speed up the process. The average time to “lease up” a tenant for those units has dropped from 25 days to about six days, said Jason Winton, Atlanta Housing’s inspections services director.

But Tracy Jones, vice president of Atlanta Housing’s voucher program, says the biggest issue with engaging landlords is the stigma of the Section 8 voucher. “Most of our families do wonderfully well on the program, but all you hear about is those don’t do well,” she said. “Trying to change the image and perception of the program is challenging.”

Atlanta Housing, formerly known as the Atlanta Housing Authority (Credit: Maggie Lee)

Last year, one of the HUD studies looked at five cities and found that stigma: Nearly half of the landlords surveyed in Cleveland, as well as nearly a third in Dallas, thought that voucher tenants were worse than market-rate tenants. “In many cases,” the authors wrote, “it is difficult to disentangle the landlord’s actual negative experiences with voucher tenants from their prejudices.”

Robert Gilstrap, who runs Title One Properties and manages nearly 500 properties in the region, works with many Section 8 tenants and holds that bias. “I don’t even believe in the program, because it’s just giving deadbeats free money,” he says. “The vast majority of tenants have been on Section 8 for generations. They’re on every program, because they all know how to game the system.”

Sims says that those kinds of stereotypes are untrue, in her experience. “Section 8 has always appealed to me,” she says. “I think it’s good for the community. I think it’s good to provide a hand up, to provide assistance at various levels.”

She says that landlords can be overly reliant on the housing authorities’ background check systems and fail to do their own checks, something echoed by one of the HUD studies. (“There are a lot of bad landlords just like there are a lot of bad tenants,” Lester says.) For landlords concerned about damage to their rentals, Atlanta Housing started a property protection insurance that will pay up to $2,000 for damage done to a unit beyond normal wear-and-tear.

“It’s a two-way street,” Sims says. “There should be some owner responsibility as well, like semi-annual inspections. Where was the tenant living before? A lot of it is common sense.”

Sims calls herself an advocate of the Section 8 program. She points out how it helps people working service jobs in Atlanta. “You mean to tell me they have to drive an hour to come into the city to work when there’s housing that could be made affordable nearby?” she says. “Just because your income is low doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a decent place to live.”

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Sonam Vashi
Sonam Vashi

Sonam Vashi is an award-winning freelance journalist in Atlanta writing about affordable housing for Saporta Report. Her reporting, which usually focuses on criminal justice, equity, and the South, has also appeared with CNN, the Washington Post, Atlanta magazine, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others. She is the vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, and she grew up in Gwinnett County.

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20 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Chris Johnston January 21, 2019 4:35 pm

    I will state the obvious because no one else has. I am not a landlord but know landlords and have friends who are their tenants.
    Many landlords do not wish to rent to Section 8 tenants because of increased property damage caused by Section 8 tenants and annoyance of non-Section 8 tenants.Report

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      alexis perry June 1, 2019 7:18 pm

      @chris johnson you do reaize like article stated that landlords need to do a better background check.. get a credit report and check rental history with past landlords.. i know a few landlords that I’ve worked with that does this. Not everyone was meant to be a landlord.Report

      Reply
      1. Avatar
        Chris Johnston June 2, 2019 10:56 am

        Alexis, I realise this and so do acquaintances who are landlords. Credit reports and rental histories can not assure that the tenant does not damage your property and annoy other tenants who are paying full price. They simply do not offer Section 8 any longer, and find their experience and their tenant’s experience better.Report

        Reply
  2. Avatar
    Arnita Allen February 12, 2019 8:42 pm

    There are good tenets and for the most part there are great people’s who takes care of homes, apartment s and houses ,Where is the love,heart ,and soul of the land . OH I FORGOT DON’T LOVE,LOVE MONEYReport

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    R Gibbs February 15, 2019 3:47 pm

    I have not rented to Section 8 (specifically the Atlanta Housing Authority) because they consistently provide estimates that are at least one thousand dollars less than the maximum rate on their own charts. They claim it is a comparison with going rates in the area but they never show you the comparisons and where they get their numbers from. They never add up when I compare the going rates. Atlanta Housing Authority likes to low ball potential landlords.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    R.P. March 5, 2019 9:34 pm

    I’m in Henry county and is experiencing the same difficulty. I’ve expanded my search farther south in Spaulding county but the same thing applies. I’ve been searching since October 2018. Main Street Renewal accepts section 8 but with conditions due to my income that I couldn’t meet. I was told as long as my income was 3 times the utilities I was fine which I exceeded but after running my background which I met all requiredments, my income was still an issue. I’m also disabled with income which exceeded their requirements. I’m considering leaving my home (GA)for over 30 yrs because I cannot afford to lose my voucher.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Bernard Banks October 24, 2019 8:57 am

    I am looking for a 3 bed room house my number 770-912-7181 or 770-912-5009 please let me know if you have some available I need one ASPReport

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Mable November 10, 2019 8:40 pm

    I am 66 years old raising my 14 year old granddaughter I had my vouchers ported here in Atlanta from Va. I have been looking for a safe comfortable nice place for us to call home for 3 months We are currently staying with my daughter which our time is running out and at that point We will be a homeless statistic I hate that everyone have to be stereo type by some don’t care tenants Please raise your decisions and know there are some good tenants as well as good Landlords I pray someone sees this and consider renting to me and my granddaughter I am looking for a 2 bedroom unit and I already have an Atlanta voucher ready to go. My number is 276-806-7764Report

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Chaquita L Mann February 18, 2020 2:45 pm

      Did you find a place?Report

      Reply
    2. Avatar
      Ayira Jalani April 29, 2020 4:48 pm

      Marble did you find a place?Report

      Reply
  7. Avatar
    Niyoki Lewis December 30, 2019 9:51 am

    I’m a participant in AHA housing voucher program and have a two bedroom voucher. I would appreciate if I could rent a nice house or townhouse in a very nice neighborhood ( landscaped, community is well rounded etc)Report

    Reply
  8. Avatar
    Chaquita L Mann February 18, 2020 2:46 pm

    Did you find a place?Report

    Reply
  9. Avatar
    Sally February 20, 2020 11:13 pm

    From reading this, there doesn’t seem to be any advantage to taking a Section 8 voucher if you can get a market rate tenant. My friend used to rent to section 8 but no longer. Inspections took too long, you had to be chasing tenants down for their portion of the rent and they did not keep the place nice. Granted you might have some of these same problems with market rate tenants but at least no government bureaucracy as well.Report

    Reply
  10. Avatar
    Dynasty Knox March 6, 2020 10:27 pm

    I am a State Worker with a salary of $16,919.33 and I am on Section 8. This is my first month living at a Section8 property. It is rodent infested, and I see different types of insects everyday. I’ve never had roaches, mice or rats. I didn’t know the difference until my landlord asked which one was at the property, as if it mattered. I am under a emergency move because the landlord refuses to comply with AHA and fix the home. The house is in not up to code. The ceiling was leaking after days of rain. The house wouldn’t heat past 67 degrees. The landlord doesn’t respond when I reach out about the property. I’ve always wanted this help that I needed but now I’m thinking my children and I were much safer with my father. I’ve used my personal money to clean and fix the property as if it were my own. Do not believe most of the things you hear about Section 8 Housing Voucher holders. I work for the state of Georgia and I’m on Government assistance.Report

    Reply
  11. Avatar
    Ayira Jalani April 29, 2020 4:33 pm

    I have a Section 8 Voucher and I want to transfer it to A nice City in Atlanta from San Diego, California. I’ve been looking in Sandy Springs. I have 1 Son and I want to help him prosper in his Life.Report

    Reply
  12. Avatar
    Ayira Jalani April 29, 2020 4:39 pm

    Are there any good Landlords that will accept my Section 8 Voucher? I’ve always treated the places I’ve stayed in like my own and always stayed 15 Years or more, I hate moving just want a nice place to call home…Report

    Reply
  13. Avatar
    Ayira Jalani April 29, 2020 4:44 pm

    Did you find a place or did you have to leave?Report

    Reply
  14. Avatar
    Thomas Harris May 28, 2020 2:44 pm

    Looking to rent in DeKalb County…my apartment was failed twice in inspection now in abatement and I have new voucher…looking for new landlordReport

    Reply
  15. Avatar
    Angela Denise Brown June 16, 2020 5:47 pm

    I would like to state that section 8 have enabled me to allow my children who are now 17 and 19 yrs of age be able to participate in out side activities like dance class. and basketball the affordable rent has helped me to become independent ant to start thinking along the terms of owning a home not to mention my children are attending and will be attending college. having to not worry about high rent have afforded me the opportunity to help my children make good grades and prepare for college. Upon being on section 8 I had a plan then I worked my plan. I have always acted as if the property was my own I told my self and my children God WANT BLESS US WITH OUR OWN UNTIL HE SEE HOW WE HANDLE OTHE PEOPLE PROPERTY. BUT I CAN TELL YOU THIS I HAVE HAD SOME GOOD LANDLORDS AND SOM BAD LANDLORDS SO IT GOES BOTH WAYS.. I to am looking for a 3 brd room 2 bath and hopefully in the next year I will be owning my very own home thanks for a good beginning of sectio0n 8Report

    Reply
  16. Avatar
    Ms. palmer July 2, 2020 10:19 pm

    I am currently on Section 8 I am also disabled I moved from North Jersey where landlord prefer Section 8 because it’s considered guaranteed money now that I have moved to Georgia in a temporary apartment while I continued your look for a home to rent I have had obstacles daily I have been told by several Realtors and landlords that they will not take the Section 8 program in Georgia that landlord hate it here because it destroys their homes I explained to several landlords that section 8 does not destroy properties it is the person who destroyed your property to discriminate against everybody who has Section 8 because someone else destroys your property is a form of discrimination in its own right but I’m fighting a battle by myself and I am in the process of becoming homeless or having to relocate back to North Jersey what do I do section 8 should have a list where we can go SEEK RENTALS without DISCRIMINATIONReport

    Reply

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