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Housing Search Assistance - Welfare to Work Vouchers

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 -   Taking families on accompanied tours of neighborhoods and units
 -   Listing available units or landlords interested in renting to WtW families
 -   Teaching families how to find units for themselves
 -   Providing tenant advocacy
 -   Conducting landlord outreach.

Assisting the Family with Finding a Unit

The appropriate range and intensity of housing search services are likely to be determined by both family needs and available resources. Given these variables, there are a wide range of techniques PHAs can use to assist families with finding a unit.

Taking Families on Accompanied Tours of Neighborhoods and Units

PHAs should target housing in neighborhoods where employment opportunities are greatest or neighborhoods in close proximity to industrial, retail, or other employment centers. Note that the PHA and/or its partners should simultaneously be recruiting landlords and searching for available units in these same neighborhoods. See the landlord outreach page for more information.

Advantages to this approach include:

  • It quickly directs families to desirable neighborhoods and units that are known to be vacant, which can considerably reduce the time and energy that families spend in the search process. PHAs should remind families, however, that where to live is ultimately the family's decision.

  • PHAs or partner staff are immediately available to answer questions and concerns, provide immediate support in discussions with managers and owners, and help the family evaluate neighborhoods and units for affordability and housing quality standards.

  • Visiting units and neighborhoods as soon as the family is ready will maintain motivation and momentum. Note: making logistical arrangements with families and owners in advance will also avoid last minute problems or cancellations.

Disadvantages to this approach include:

  • Showing units and neighborhoods is very time consuming and difficult to schedule, and families often require transportation assistance.

  • Families' geographic preferences may not correspond to the neighborhoods with available units and expanded employment opportunities.

  • Staff can become so active in the decision-making process that a family becomes increasingly dependent on the staff person.

  • It can also be costly (purchasing or renting vans) and labor-intensive.

To help offset these disadvantages, PHAs should avoid showing families units and neighborhoods that are not of interest to them. Consult families beforehand regarding neighborhood preferences, affordable rent levels, and housing needs and desires to target neighborhoods appropriately.

Listing Available Units or Landlords Interested in Renting to WtW Families

PHAs and/or partner agencies can provide unit and landlord listings to families and follow up to see whether the search resulted in the identification of any desirable units. If the listings of units and interested landlords are kept up-to-date and families are well trained on how to search, this approach can be quite successful.

Advantages to this approach include:

  • It gives the family flexibility in scheduling visits to units and in visiting neighborhoods of their choice.

  • The family also takes responsibility for making appointments, checking out units and following up with the landlord, with only occasional staff support.

  • This approach can also work well after the family has participated in an accompanied initial tour of the neighborhood.

Disadvantages to this approach include:

  • Families may be unsuccessful in screening units on the phone and may waste time visiting inappropriate units because they did not ask the right questions.

  • Without more "hands on" assistance, families may also wind up selecting a unit that does not meet regular housing choice voucher program requirements or that is not well suited to help the family obtain or retain employment.

  • Landlords or building managers may also screen out families because of their accent, language abilities, or where they currently live.

  • Listings become out-of-date very quickly and require constant updating to remain useful. These updates, however, add to the time and cost required to carry out this approach.

Teaching Families How to Find Units for Themselves

Teaching families how to search for housing is an extremely important component to any plan for providing housing search assistance. Building their housing search skills entails educating families about how to use specific information sources, how to get information about neighborhood and community facilities and services, and how to set up and keep appointments for visiting units. Equally important is to prepare families to present themselves in the most positive manner to prospective property managers and landlords. WtW voucher holders must know how to sell themselves and the WtW program! An effective method for developing these skills is through role-play simulations.

Providing Tenant Advocacy

There are three occasions during the search process where acting as a family's advocate can help place the family in a unit:

  • Introductions. PHA or partner staff can introduce a prospective tenant to a property owner/manager, highlighting the qualities and strengths of the family and its interest in a unit.

  • Application. Securing acceptance of a family's application may require staff intervention to convince the owner/manager of the advantages and merits of having the family as a tenant.

  • Leasing-Up Process. A series of events lead to the signing of the lease and HAP contract, including making a deposit to secure the unit, checking references, confirming or negotiating terms of the lease, PHA unit inspections, determination of reasonable rent, and PHA approval of the tenancy. Staff guidance, follow-up, and intervention help clarify program requirements to both the family and the owner, as well as to avoid delays in the process.
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