“It’s almost been to the point of just being able to get in the door,” said Delores Bailey, executive director of EmPOWERment Inc. “It’s sometimes difficult for the landlords just to sit down with us.”
Bailey said she suspects much of the reason landlords and property managers stop accepting the vouchers is the misconceptions surrounding the people who hold the vouchers.
“That could be somebody who works at Harris Teeter and just doesn’t have enough money to pay the whole rent,” she said.
Last fall, the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro established funds to help families and individuals who were displaced when their vouchers were no longer accepted. Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich said the commissioners recently replenished the county’s social justice fund with $450,000.
“It’s enough for emergencies, but not enough to help all the folks that need help,” she said. “Putting a Band-Aid on it is not a long-term solution — it might be in the short term, and people get to have housing, but it’s not sustainable.”
On Jan. 20, the Orange County Housing and Community Development Department hired Audrey Spencer-Horsley as its new, permanent director.
Spencer-Horsley said the department is in the process of distributing a new brochure to its non-profit partners to inform property managers about the housing choice voucher program.
The department is also planning an information session for property providers to take place in Chapel Hill.
“Every landlord wants a good, paying tenant at the end of the day,” she said. “I think there may be an opportunity to try to incentivize the program, but I want to first hear from (the property providers) what would be helpful for them in making the program more attractive.”
George Barrett, coordinator of organizing and advocacy for the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, said the center has been working with developers to design incentives for the voucher program that would benefit them.
“If you add this amount of affordable housing units, you can build two or three stories higher than you anticipated — so you have more units but a larger segment of affordable housing,” he said.
The county is also considering creating a new position for a housing locator, said Jamie Rohe, homeless programs coordinator for the Housing and Community Development Department.
“It’s kind of what it sounds like — a person responsible for having complete knowledge of all of the affordable housing developments in the county, for recruiting landlords to accept housing choice vouchers, for keeping a list and being able to tell people which landlords accept housing choice vouchers,” she said.
“Everybody has a little piece of the puzzle. Everyone sees a little piece of it and has their own contacts and partial information. What I’m advocating is one person who can be the resource for that information.”
Rich said she hopes having a permanent director of housing and community development and new ideas being generated among county leaders and officials will spur change.
“We’re going to become all snow-white, upper- and middle-class folks if we don’t pay attention,” she said. “It can kill a town, that lack of diversity.”