In a bid to encourage more landlords to rent to the poor, the Berkeley Housing Authority will consider guaranteeing security deposits for Section 8 tenants.
The Housing Department hopes that the guaranteed deposit of up to two months rent, along with recently increased rental subsidies, will encourage more landlords to rent units to families and individuals with Section 8 vouchers. The BHA will vote on the recommendation tonight.
“We’ve had too many landlords pull out of the Section 8 program,” said BHA member Dona Spring. The Housing Authority is made up of the City Council and two community members.
“We need to do more to encourage property owners to rent to low-income tenants,” she said.
Under the proposed plan, the BHA will guarantee landlords up to two months security deposit. The tenants will then make payments to the landlord for a period of no longer than two years until the deposit is paid in full.
If the tenant moves out and there is damage to the apartment, the BHA guarantees the cost of repairs for the balance of the deposit. If the recommendation is approved, the BHA will set up a fund of $25,000 to cover potential repair costs.
Interim Housing Director Stephen Barton underscored that most Section 8 tenants are responsible. “Section 8 tenants are mostly made up of the elderly, the disabled and families, they’re a responsible group.” he said. “Occasionally there is a bad tenant, but no more so than other tenants.”
The state allows landlords to require a deposit of up to two months rent, which can be as much as $2,000 or more for a one-bedroom apartment, an amount
difficult for most Section 8 tenants to have in hand, according to Spring.
Currently there are 5,500 Section 8 families on a waiting list for housing in Berkeley. The first 1,500 on the list are people who already live or work in Berkeley.
Applicants for Section 8 vouchers must earn 50 percent or less of the median income for the area which is $60,800 for a family of two. The standard is set by HUD
President of the Black Property Owners Association, Frank Davis, said he had not heard of the guaranteed security deposit program. “I don’t feel comfortable making a statement other than to say the only problem I might have is that the Housing Department didn’t come to the landlords for our input,” he said. “There may have been something we might have been able to add, to make the plan better.”
Davis said he rents to Section 8 tenants and has had no problems, but he said other property owners have told him that the BHA has been unresponsive to landlords when problems do arise.
“If the BHA wants more landlords to come into the program they’re going to have to do some outreach,” Davis said. “They have a reputation for alienating landlords, not returning phone calls and no support when there’s a tenant violating a contract or causing problems.”
Barton agreed that the Housing Authority has been less than supportive for landlords which is a situation he said will change.
“One of the reasons for the meeting tonight is to present the Housing Authority with a report of what steps we’re taking to correct those problems,” he said.
Barton said reaching out to landlords is exactly what Housing Department wants to do. In addition to the security deposit guarantee, He pointed to a recent HUD approval of an increase in Section 8 rents.
As of Dec. 1, the new Section 8 monthly rent allowance was increased to $750 for a studio, $980 for a one bedroom and $1,308 for a two bedroom, according to Barton.
“We’re supposed to pay whatever the market rent for the unit is,” Barton said. “We usually go by the rent of the most recently rented unit in any apartment complex, but the Housing Authority has been instructed to give landlords the benefit of the doubt when setting rents. We want to reward them for participating in the Section 8 program.”
The Berkeley Housing Authority is meeting Tuesday in the City Council Chambers at 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be broadcast live on KPFB Radio 89.3 and Cable B-TV (Channel 25).