CINCINNATI — With limited space in her extended-stay hotel room, Brittany Clark had to get creative to create a home for her family. The two-foot space between the bed and the dresser is her toddlers’ playroom, the sink and hot plate on the counter serve as her kitchen, and she’s even learned to bake bread at home. garlic in the microwave. Most of her time, however, is spent at her makeshift office, emailing, calling, and filling out any applications she can find to try to find more permanent housing for her family.

The problem isn’t that she can’t afford a rental for her family; that’s how she’s going to pay. Clark has a good choice of housing, but for the past five months she has struggled to find a landlord willing to accept her.

What do you want to know

  • Housing choice vouchers pay about 70% of rent for low-income tenants
  • Owners must participate in the program and undergo a federal inspection of their unit
  • Beneficiaries struggle to find landlords willing to accept vouchers
  • Clark is in need of four/five bedroom accommodation and has sent in dozens of applications

The Housing Choice Voucher program provides federal assistance to low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities to help them afford housing in the private market through Section 8. The voucher covers some or all of its participants’ rent, usually around 70%, provided they remain in good standing with the program, can find a rental that passes an inspection with a representative from Housing and urban developmentand find an owner willing to participate as well.

That last piece, Clark said, was her biggest challenge.

Clark plays with his two youngest children in their extended stay hotel room.

“I probably saw at least 35 houses,” she said. “Applied to about 60.”

Time and time again, she said her requests were denied or, more often, she never heard from the owners.

Clark has participated in the voucher program for years, consistently paying his share of the rent, about 30%, to his former landlords, while the voucher covers the rest.

The system was working well until about five months ago. Due to a lack of maintenance and increasing safety issues at her previous unit, including an incident in which a child’s foot broke through the floor, Clark decided she had to move.

“I just want a safe place for my children,” she said.

Clark still considers it the right decision, although she didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to find another place to live.

She has two toddlers and three teenagers who, when they are not working themselves, help her with research. For the past month and a half, she has been able to get temporary accommodation through the Community Action Agency, which paid for the hotel stay, but she knows that if she doesn’t find accommodation soon, she fears find on the street.

“It’s stressful,” she said. “I’m ready to take anything at this point.”

Unable to compete

Caitlyn Byers, Clark’s attorney through Southwestern Ohio Legal Aid, said her situation is far from unique.

“Miss Clark isn’t even my only client with five kids house hunting right now,” she said.

Byers works with Clark to help her find a safe place to live while she searches for permanent housing

There are approximately 10,600 families in Hamilton County who receive federal housing choice vouchers through the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority, with 1,600 on the waiting list and about 1,200 actively looking for a place to use it.

ACSM spokesperson Lesley Wardlow said these beneficiaries have 90 days to find suitable housing with a participating landlord. Then the owner goes through a unit background check and inspection, which can take two to four weeks.

Increasingly though, Wardlow said a number of recipients were struggling to find a landlord willing to go through the process within that timeframe.

“Due to changes in the market due to the pandemic,” she said. “We offer families more than one extension.”

Legal aid is also seeing the impact. In recent months, Byers said his office has received an increasing number of calls from recipients who, like Clark, are struggling to compete in today’s rental market.

“Landlords have their pick of people who want to rent from them, so it’s very difficult to convince a landlord to accept what the good one will pay,” Byers said.

Byers blames the lack of housing at all levels, but especially affordable housing. With the market rate for rents are rising rapidly there’s more competition for those few affordable units available, which she says also drives up the price.

“People who would otherwise be tenants and who are perfect good tenants who can pay rent are priceless,” she said.

The problem is not unique to Cincinnati. In 2018, Urban Institute published a study showing limited units and high rejection rates for voucher recipients across the country, with many owners citing “bureaucracy” and fearing that voucher recipients may not be able to afford the unit in the long run. The more competitive the market and the looser the legal protections against housing discrimination, the higher the refusal rates.

“Give people a chance”

With five children, Clark faces another major hurdle. His voucher will only apply to four- or five-bedroom units, which are also rare. Although she has approached a few times, she said she did not ask owners to sign up for the inspection.

“A landlord told me I had the house and got me all excited, told my kids I only had it to give it to someone else,” she said. “Why do I always hear no instead of yes?” »

Wardlow said ACSM has tried to make the process smoother for landlords, offering virtual inspections in the wake of the pandemic, and increased the amount vouchers pay to try to meet market rent. Last year, the agency offered a temporary incentive of up to $2,000 to be part of the program and it said it was considering another incentive this year.

“We are continually working to improve our processes,” she said.

As for Clark, with his voucher expiring at the end of August and his days at the hotel numbered, the matter seems more urgent every day.

“I just want to get out of here, and you know, be somewhere comfortable and I can relax and enjoy my house and I really feel at home,” she said. “Give people a chance, you know?”