Program will help landlords make rents affordable

07/28/2016

In a new collaboration with the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin and Marin Housing Authority, the county will offer a suite of financial incentives and support services designed to entice landlords to make rents affordable. The two-year pilot program, approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, is largely focused on helping landlords rent to people with Section 8 housing vouchers. In West Marin, however, the incentives won’t be limited to assisting those with federal vouchers.

The county has dedicated close to half a million dollars for the project. Most of that will go to a Landlord Partnership Program, which is being run by the Marin Housing Authority, while CLAM will receive $46,000 to run a Community Homes Program.

To formulate the program, Supervisor Damon Connolly said, “What we did in this case is meet directly with the landlords, for an extended period of time, and really heard from them what would make a difference in moving the dial on participation.”

Countywide, the landlord partnership program will offer a variety of financial incentives for landlords to rent to voucher holders. For instance, the program will help fund security deposits, cover the cost of damages if they exceed the value of a deposit, and provide one month’s rent if a tenant vacates.

Landlords could also be eligible for reductions or waivers in building permit fees for repairs or improvements to a rental, as well as interest-free loans of up to $25,000 for a rehabilitation and $35,000 for the creation of a junior accessory unit. And if a landlord decides not to raise rents more than 3 percent each year for three years, they could obtain a $3,000 forgivable loan to fix health and safety hazards like plumbing or electrical issues.

In addition to the financial perks, there will be a 24-hour hotline to assist landlords in resolving disputes. The county will also continue to meet with a new landlord advisory committee.

County officials say that in 2015, over 2,000 households used Section 8 vouchers, a program in which the federal government pays the portion of rent in excess of 30 percent of the household’s income. But many others were unable to find landlords willing to accept them. 

That leaves low-income families with a tough choice: give up the voucher and pay market values, which they could not likely afford, or leave Marin. The county says that only 37 percent of those who receive vouchers in Marin find a rental that will accept them.

Under the pilot project, the Housing Authority has a goal of convincing 50 landlords to rent to Section 8 voucher holders in the next two years, and boosting the percentage of voucher holders who find housing from 37 percent to 50 percent.

“I appreciate the fact that there are measurable goals that we have, and we’re going to be able to monitor whether we hit those. Because as exciting as this program is, it’s a nearly half-a-million dollar investment that we’re making,” Supervisor Steve Kinsey said.

Persuading landlords to rent affordably was on a priority list created by the county after a series of workshops on the affordable housing crisis last fall and winter. Many people from West Marin aired their fears over the growing impact of short-term vacation rentals, particularly through sites like Airbnb, which many said reduces the rentals available to residents.

Through the Community Homes Program, West Marin landlords will be able to take advantage of the county incentives even if they don’t rent to federal voucher holders. Instead, they must work through CLAM’s renter waitlist, limit rents to 80 percent of the area median income and a maximum of 35 percent of tenant’ income and agree to a one-year lease.

CLAM will reach out to potential landlords and look through their waitlist for a “good tenant match,” according to a report on the project, but the landlord will make the final call. The land trust will also conduct pre-move-in inspections. 

In some situations, typically reserved for multi-bedroom houses, CLAM may even become the “master tenant” to facilitate a shared home. In this case, CLAM itself would sign the lease and sublet to renters. According to the report, the nonprofit would “create house rules for a home share situation, conduct periodic property inspections, and collect monthly rent,” which it would then provide to the homeowner. 

“We’re working every angle we can to ensure stability in the community,” said Kim Thompson, the group’s executive director, at the supervisor’s meeting

The nonprofit hopes to work with 12 landlords during the pilot.

Though supervisors easily approved the landlord incentives, the county has had more difficulty putting together voluntary rent guidelines, another goal from the workshops. On Tuesday, county planner Leelee Thomas said the landlord advisory committee wanted the guidelines to stipulate a maximum 10 percent annual increase, although Supervisor Connolly said they would probably now accept 8 percent.

But those numbers are too high for some supervisors, as the number would not be a mandatory limit but a voluntary guidance meant to help change “social behavior” on rent increases, Supervisor Kinsey said. 

Supervisor Kate Sears said a 10 percent limit “served no purpose whatsoever,” as that would pretty much preserve the status quo for the many renters who are fortunate to even get a 3 percent annual raise at work.

Supervisor Judy Arnold generally concurred. “We’re dealing with an emergency of rising rents,” she said.

The Community Development Agency will continue to work on the guidelines, as well as investigate whether it would be worthwhile to collect data on rent increases in the county.