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Learning from Each Other: Improving Leasing Program Efficiency in Baltimore County, Md

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 -   Challenge
 -   Solution
 -   Implementation
 -   Results

Agency: Baltimore County Department of Social Services Housing Office (BCHO)
(Size of WtW Program: 700 vouchers)

Challenge

Housing Authorities and other WtW voucher program staff face the challenge of leasing their WtW Housing Vouchers within the program deadline. Further, some PHAs were awarded vouchers numbering 50 percent above their current capacity, forcing them to tackle more lease ups with relatively unchanged resources. These and other PHAs struggling to lease up must make creative use of existing methods and resources to lease up vouchers efficiently.

Solution: Streamline Intake Procedures to Improve Lease Up

To make its leasing procedures more efficient, BCHO staff streamlined their intake and leasing activities for WtW and Section 8 housing vouchers. New procedures include a mail-in intake system, client orientation (which replaces one-on-one client interviews), briefing packets that explain leasing options and "next steps," streamlined voucher processing, and follow-up with supportive services when clients cannot find housing within 90 days.

Implementation

When applying its new procedures, BCHO follows these steps:

  1. Mail-in intake procedures and orientation
    BCHO staff kicks off the leasing process by mailing out an orientation packet. Applicants are asked to sign forms and collect information listed on the documentation checklist. Applicant information is then given to Housing Office staff during the orientation. The orientation provides detailed information about the WtW program and the appropriate steps to successfully lease a Section 8 unit, including all documents that are given to families for successful leasing. Families also sign a rental voucher and appropriate "third party forms" during the orientation. At the end of the orientation, all forms, including the signed voucher are collected by BCHO staff. Families are then offered resources to assist with outstanding debts and other barriers that could prevent successful lease up.

  2. Voucher mailing and briefing packet
    Following the orientation, staff certifies eligibility for client income and calculates total tenant payment (TTP). BCHO staff next determines the 40 percent cap amount and places the TTP and 40 percent figures on the rental voucher. Vouchers are then mailed to families with a completed landlord packet.

    The landlord packet includes:

     -   Landlord cover letter explaining the "steps to successful leasing with a Section 8 family"
     -   Rental voucher
     -   Worksheet for calculating tenant rent amount
     -   Two pre-typed Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) contracts that list head of household (HOH) and family composition
     -   Information on lead-based paint
     -   Utility charts for all unit sizes
     -   Request for tenancy approval (RTA), which includes the family's past landlord history.

    The landlords are instructed to submit the RTA, lead based paint sign off or certification, and an unexecuted lease. They are also instructed to retain the HAP contracts and tenancy addendum for post-inspection completion.

  3. Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspections and voucher processing
    Before inspectors go to a unit, BCHO staff starts a notice of passed inspection (NOPI) form. This form lists all of the information required on the HAP contract and executed lease. When the inspector passes a unit, the inspector completes the NOPI form and hands it directly to the landlord for his/her signature. The landlord is instructed to complete the HAP contracts, execute the lease, and submit the paperwork within 10 days. If HAP contracts are not submitted within the 10-day time frame, BCHO completes their copies of the pre-typed HAP contracts and mails the contracts to the landlord with a cover letter explaining what is necessary to receive payment. Families are sent copies of all notices sent to the Landlord and receive follow-up copies of the NOPI form once they have moved into the unit.

  4. Voucher follow-up
    BCHO sends reminder post cards to those families that are having a difficult time leasing a unit and have been searching for approximately 90 days. Families are also invited to contact the Housing Office if they feel they might need a 60-day extension. In order to receive an extension, they must attend a special extension briefing. BCHO finds that "in person" group extension meetings allows BCHO staff to troubleshoot specific issues with families and to connect them with outside supportive services. Lack of supportive services, including security deposit funds, is often what stands between clients and successful lease up.

Results

BCHO's streamlined system has made it possible to assist a greater number of families in a shorter period of time. In addition, BCHO has not needed to increase staff capacity to accommodate the greater number of rental subsidies. The NOPI form has also decreased the volume of monthly calls to BCHO staff as families are instructed to contact their prospective landlords for inspection dates and inspection results. Finally, the 60-day extension process has provided a more flexible leasing schedule to families facing the greatest leasing challenges. This extension and the required extension briefing also allow families in greatest need to obtain the resources necessary for successful lease up.

Contact: Julie O'Connor at (410) 887-4457

 
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