The following message to the community was penned by Sonoma County Supervisor Chris Coursey and Santa Rosa City Councilmember Tom Schwedhelm and published in The Press Democrat 'Close to Home' opinion section on Sunday, November 6, 2022: Read in The Press Democrat
Heroes Can Open Doors to Affordability
By Chris Coursey and Tom Schwedhelm
Today, amid a housing shortage that has reached crisis proportions, 306 individuals, couples and families in Sonoma County hold the key to an affordable home but still cannot get in.
They need a Housing Hero to open the door.
Who’s a Housing Hero? Maybe you or someone you know. It could be a homeowner with a spare room or accessory dwelling unit, or a rental management company with dozens or hundreds of units under contract.
The Housing Authorities of Sonoma County and Santa Rosa are looking for Housing Heroes willing to rent a home to one or more of those 306 prospective tenants. That heroic act won’t cost a dime to a landlord, but it will make a life-changing difference to the people who gain a place to live in Sonoma County that doesn’t send them deeper into poverty each time they pay the rent.
It works like this: The landlord charges market-rate rent on his or her property, while the tenant generally pays 30 percent of his or her income as rent. The balance, no matter what the amount, as long as it’s fair, is paid directly to the landlord through the federally funded Housing Choice Voucher Program.
It’s good for tenants. It’s good for landlords. It’s good for the community.
Sonoma County and Santa Rosa, as with many jurisdictions around the nation, in the past year, received hundreds of additional housing vouchers from the federal government as part of its massive response to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. While those additional vouchers are a vital resource to a community that has suffered lost jobs, lost income and lost housing, the vouchers can only help if the people who hold them can find a landlord willing to accept them.
And there’s the problem. Housing Choice Vouchers – also commonly called “Section 8” – are not always seen by landlords as equal to rent. That’s a big reason why those 306 voucher holders in Sonoma County can’t find a way to use them. It’s why, last year, more than 150 vouchers expired, each loss extinguishing a chance at affordable housing for a struggling individual or family.
In reality, vouchers are not only equal to cash rent; they often are considered better by landlords who understand the protections and benefits to their property that vouchers provide.
Zach Powers of Sebastopol, a Sonoma County native and landlord, accepts tenants with vouchers and works with the SHARE Sonoma program to find housemates compatible with each other and with his properties.
“Having that organization in place has made the process (of renting) even easier,” Powers said. “What I look for is a stable tenant that pays the rent and takes care of the property. What I found is, in general, the tenants that I have on vouchers meet that criteria as well or sometimes better than any other tenant.”
Housing vouchers do not change the relationship between tenants and landlords. Property owners screen tenants as usual and enter into leases directly with the renter. Month-to-month leases are acceptable, and tenants are bound by all the provisions of a lease.
Vouchers may be used on single-family home rentals, apartments, and single rooms. Properties are inspected before occupancy to ensure they are decent, safe, and sanitary. Housing Authorities may be able to financially assist property owners who need help with minor repairs. Landlords can charge full rent and, if necessary, raise rent over time by providing appropriate written notice to the Housing Authority and tenant.
A small amount of bureaucracy can do a tremendous amount of good.
“The voucher is what enabled me to completely rebuild my life,” said Erin Nicky McDermott of Rohnert Park, who in 2018 used that key to begin unlocking what she called “a never-ending and generational cycle of being homeless.”
She has since been reunited with her son and daughter and has been stably housed for four years.
“When I was given that first chance (at stable housing through the voucher program), it put a fire under me.”
Help make a difference for one of your Sonoma County neighbors. Open the door and become a Housing Hero today.
If you are a property manager or property owner and would like information on renting to rent assisted tenants, please contact Sonoma County’s Property Manager/Housing Hero line at (707) 565-1259 or by email at [email protected]. Within the City of Santa Rosa, call 707-543-3305 or email [email protected].
To view videos of Housing Heroes and their tenants visit Sonomacounty.ca.gov/housing-heroes.