More and more landlords have come to hear and know the terms Section 8 or the Housing Choice Voucher Program in recent years. In Washington DC, investors know that there are many benefits to actively participating in this program. As part of the 1974 Housing and Community Development Act, this program expands the availability of suitable housing options to low-income households. Continue reading below as we discuss everything a landlord needs to know about Housing Vouchers in the DC Metro area.
What are Housing Choice Vouchers?
The Housing Choice Voucher Program is a federally backed system that assists families and individuals in need by providing greater affordable housing options. Therefore, the goal is to allow low-income individuals an opportunity to remove themselves from statistically crime-ridden areas in exchange for areas with better employment rates, school systems, and more services. Across the United States, the HCVP serves over 2 million rental households. Of that, more than 13,000 households benefit from housing vouchers in the DC Metro area.
Housing Vouchers in the DC Metro Area According to the Numbers
According to The District of Columbia Housing Authority, nearly 50,000 residents in the DC area benefit from traditional affordable housing, tenant- and project-based housing vouchers, and mixed-income properties. Of those individuals, 15,400 are children, 6,200 are seniors, more than 10,000 are disabled, along with just over 1,000 US veterans.
To qualify for a housing voucher, the combined household income must be less than 50% of the area’s median income. By being in this income bracket, residents are considered “rent-burdened.” In other words, they pay more than one-third of their income goes towards monthly housing expenses. Therefore, the housing program stipulates the maximum amount residents can pay out of pocket is 30%. After that, the voucher pays the balance.
Due to the long program waitlist, the DC Housing Authority awards vouchers by a lottery system. Then, once a tenant has secured a voucher, they have 60 days to find suitable housing that meets HUD’s Fair Market Rent guidelines.
The COVID-19 pandemic has suspended all rent increases; however, these rates are generally evaluated each year. Between October and December of each year, the Housing Authority analyzes the rental market based on the local unassisted units. Based on this information, the HCVP will provide the tenant and/or owner an approved submarket rent amount when the Request for Tenancy Approval (RFTA) package is submitted. Furthermore, the housing office may adjust the rent annually if it determines the rates have fluctuated by more than 10%.
Do Landlords in Washington DC Have to Accept a Voucher?
Yes, landlords may not deny housing vouchers in the DC Metro area solely based on the income source. In fact, more and more states are protecting renters against discrimination based on the source of income. However, that does not mean that a voucher tenant gets any special treatment or does not need to adhere to a landlord’s standard qualifications. So, if the tenant meets the income requirement via employment, voucher, social security, disability benefits, or any other legal means of income, a landlord must consider them for their rental.
Fair Housing Laws in Washington DC
When it comes to housing vouchers in the DC Metro area and Fair Housing compliance, following the letter of the law is critical. However, no matter where the rental property is located, all landlords must adhere to Fair Housing Laws that protect renters from unjust discrimination.
Each jurisdiction may have additional protected classes above and beyond the federal mandate. So, always check the laws in your area before beginning your search for a tenant. As an example, let’s take a look at the list of protected classes in the DC metro area below –
- Race – Including a person’s ancestry or ethnicity.
- Skin Color or Complexion
- Religion – Including a belief system that may or may not include spirituality.
- National Origin
- Genetic Information – Also known as your DNA or family history.
- Sex or an Individual’s Gender
- Sexual Orientation – Including homosexuality, heterosexuality, and bisexuality.
- Gender Identity or Expression – Including behavior, appearance, expression, or behavior that differs from the gender assigned at birth.
- Age – 18 years or older
- Marital Status – Including opposite and same-sex marriage, single, widowed, divorced, separated, and domestic partnerships.
- Family Responsibilities – Such as supporting a person in a dependent relationship, which includes, but is not limited to, children, grandchildren, or parents.
- Familial Status – Including a parent or guardian with children under 18.
- Personal Outward Appearance
- Political Affiliation
- Disability – Including a physical or mental impairment substantially limiting one or more major life activities.
- Source of Income – The origination of a person’s finances.
Additional Traits May Include
- Matriculation – Otherwise described as being enrolled in some type of secondary school.
- Status as a Victim of an Intrafamily Offense – Described as a person subjected to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
How to Comply with Fair Housing Laws in DC
Keep in mind that any discrimination, real or implied, could result in a Fair Housing complaint. Therefore, causing landlords potentially devastating financial consequences. So, to avoid a costly legal battle, follow along with these tips below to ensure compliance in your rental business –
- Stick to Standard Qualifications – It is true that landlords cannot refuse to rent solely based on housing vouchers in the DC Metro area. However, standard qualifications still apply. That said, a voucher applicant may still face rejection for any number of valid reasons such as a criminal background, poor payment or rental history, or negative rental history.
- Remain Consistent in All Things – Staying consistent with applicant qualifications is only a small part of what landlords need to do. These Fair Housing standards of practice extend to how a landlord treats a tenant as they evaluate, qualify, and generally respond to the tenant. As we saw above, the source of income is far from the only protected class. Therefore, landlords must also ensure that printed or digital media reflect full compliance with Fair Housing Standards. The bottom line is you must treat everyone the same, no matter what.
- Avoid Steering – “Steering” refers to when an agent or landlord tries to limit an applicant’s housing options by leading them to a specific unit or area of the community. Therefore, to avoid an easy argument for discrimination, landlords must offer any and all vacant units to any qualified applicant.
Landlord Benefits of Participating in the Housing Choice Voucher Program
Besides helping the community, landlords can enjoy several other benefits by accepting housing vouchers in the DC Metro area. The idea that a voucher holder is more likely to skip out on the lease or damage the property is a common but inaccurate stereotype. Read on to see some of the many incentives property owners have by accepting a voucher tenant.
Benefits of the Housing Voucher Program
- Guaranteed Direct Deposit Income – Typically, the voucher subsidy covers around 50% to 70% of the monthly rent. Owners receive the housing portion of rent via direct deposit each month. This offers a guaranteed and convenient flow of rental income. Additionally, tenants risk losing their vouchers if they do not pay their portion and maintain the unit. Therefore, it is in their best interest to pay in full and on time.
- Pre-Qualified Applicants – The local housing office pre-screens applicants as part of the voucher qualification process. Thus, tenants must meet and adhere to certain criteria to initially receive a voucher. This pre-screening includes passing a criminal background check and verifying income. Although this does not take the place of a landlord screening, it does serve as added peace of mind.
- Long-Term Potential – Vacancies are few and far between in DC. However, people do move, and this is a costly turnover process for the owner. Generally, voucher tenants tend to stay for longer terms once they find a home they love.
- Regular Inspections – Landlords must maintain the rental in good repair. That said, owners will receive regular landlords must adhere to Fair Housing Laws. Additionally, these periodic inspections provide insight into how the tenants maintain the unit.
Despite the many benefits of housing vouchers, it is important to remember that there are no guarantees. Whether the tenant you choose is a market or voucher, renting your investment property comes with some risk. So, always complete a thorough screening of all applicants to ensure you find the best fit.
How to Make DC Housing Vouchers Work for You
When it comes to navigating housing vouchers in the DC Metro area, the process and paperwork take time and effort. Also, a thorough understanding of the complex housing rules and regulations is key. Therefore, partnering with an experienced local property manager can put owners at ease knowing all Fair Housing Laws are strictly upheld.
As a leading property manager in Washington D.C., Bay Property Management Group bridges the gap between tenants, landlords, and housing offices to rent your property efficiently. Our team of dedicated agents and managers handles the daily operations, paperwork, and communications, allowing our clients to get the most out of their property investments. So, curious how Bay Property Management can maximize your Washington DC rental? Give us a call today for a free no-obligation property analysis!