Landlords needed: Misconceptions surround Section 8 housing program

Jeri Asher, an inspector with the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, helps make sure that properties meet safety and code standards.

COVINGTON, Ky. - Section 8 isn’t what you think it is. 

That’s the City of Covington’s message as it searches for landlords in Kenton County to rent to low-income families and others whose monthly payments are partially paid by the federal government.
Because not enough landlords are participating, some 150 people and families who have been certified by the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program are still searching for a place to live.
“With a waiting list of almost 3,000 people, there’s a huge need for affordable housing units throughout Kenton County, but we’re hamstrung right now by a shortage of partners,” said Covington’s Neighborhood Services Director Ken Smith, whose department oversees the program.
The problem is that myths and misconceptions surrounding the program have scared away some property owners, said Kim Phillips, the City’s Section 8 program coordinator.
“We find that some property owners who might consider participating are held back by assumptions that aren’t based on facts or first-hand knowledge or experiences,” Phillips said.
Most of those assumptions revolve around these areas:
  • Geography - Kenton County is allocated 1,200 vouchers for use countywide, even though the City oversees the program. Only about 60 percent of them are used in Covington, Phillips said.
  • Paperwork - There’s less paperwork than people anticipate, and most of it is prepared by Section 8 staff, Phillips said: “We’ve had quite a few landlords tell us, ‘That’s it? That’s all there is? That’s not as bad as I thought.’ ”
  • Inspections - The City does a basic inspection of rental property on the front end to make sure it meets Housing Quality Standards, but it primarily addresses common-sense safety and code issues, she said. If deficiencies are found, landlords are given the opportunity to fix those, or they can simply withdraw that property from the program.
  • Time - The federal government requires the City to inspect any new unit within two weeks, but most inspections are completed within a few days, she said.
  • Leases - The Section 8 program requires a separate lease between the City and landlord related to terms of the program but for the most part it stays out of leases between landlords and tenants, although it does make sure there’s no discrimination in renting.
  • Rent - The program does not set the rent and only requires that it and any security deposits be “fair and reasonable” based on local experiences, Phillips said. Once the rent is set, Section 8 requires that families pay 30 percent of their income toward rent and housing expenses, and the government pays the rest.
  • Flexibility - If a piece of property has several units, landlords can split them up and enter only one unit or a few of them in the Section 8 program.
  • Enforcement - One misconception is that landlords can’t enforce terms of their lease, Phillips said. If a tenant violates the lease, the City does not stand in the way of enforcement, she said.
  • Units - While most Section 8 vouchers are used to rent apartments, they can also be used for single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes, mobile homes, condominiums, townhouses, and cottages.
  • Screening - The City verifies income and does a criminal background check (although only certain convictions disqualify a tenant), Phillips said. Any other screening (such as eviction and credit history) is not only the landlord’s right but also their responsibility.
  • Stigma - The biggest misconception concerns the image of Section 8 itself, Smith said. Some people assume that if a property is run down, it must be Section 8, and that all participants are “problem” tenants, he said. The reality is that a lot of Section 8 rentals are in better shape than other apartments and houses, he said, and the program offers many advantages for landlords. 
Phillips concurred.
“Families on Section 8 are no different than other families - financially they just need some assistance,” she said.“And as far as the process, after the initial paperwork, we’re mostly out of the picture and landlords generally can run their business as they normally do.”
Benefits for landlords:
Phillips, who has worked in Covington’s Section 8 office for 16 years and oversees a staff of six out of 2300 Madison Ave., said many landlords like the program because:
  • The City’s portion of the rent is guaranteed and direct deposited each month.
  • A tenant’s fear of losing their Section 8 voucher helps hold them accountable to lease obligations, such as prompt payment and taking care of the property.
  • The program can help landlords find tenants. 
The two parties are technically responsible for finding each other and working out lease arrangements. But the Section 8 program can help make that match happen because it has an electronic inventory of available properties that it updates twice a month, seen HERE, and prospective tenants can sign up for a waiting list by pre-applying HERE, Phillips said.
Phillips said she’s also found that a lot of landlords like that the Section 8 voucher system has a built-in “preference” that favors families who work and who are local.
Property owners who have questions about Section 8 or want to participate should call (859) 292-2188.
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