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Government Rent Assistance Programs...

Section 8, Renter’s Advantage, and other programs

There are a whole variety of rental assistance programs mandated by the federal government, the State of New York, and the City of New York. New Jersey has similar programs. They all, in some way, pay or or part of a renter’s monthly rent by guaranteeing payment directly to the landlord.

In order to participate in these programs, landlords have to sign up and be approved by the City, State, or H.U.D for the federal government. Likewise, the renter has to sign up for the programs. There is a long waiting list of people waiting to be approved for these programs and not sufficient funding to fill the need. As a result, the wait for approval can take several years.

The details of each program are not important for the sake of this discussion. Although there are numerous programs, I may refer to the programs by the name of the largest program, “Section 8”. Section 8 is generally for the working poor, where the assistance is capped and the renter must pay at least 1/3 of the rent from their own income.

The two issues that are most frequently discussed with Advisors are:

  1. How do I find a landlord who will accept government programs?
  2. Why do landlord slam the phone down when call to ask about their vacant apartments?

Let’s take them one at a time:
New York recently passed a law that says all landlords must consider any lawful income source in qualifying a renter. Lawful income includes the money you are granted under the government rent assistance programs.

So theoretically, New York landlords are not supposed to discriminate against renters who are receiving a rent assistance program. But the reality is a bit different.

However, this doesn't mean that a landlord has to approve your application. If you are using housing vouchers you must still meet any employment, income, credit worthiness, and security requirements that the landlord uses to approve rental applications. As of this time, the criteria that landlords use varies widely and there is no uniform way of knowing how a landlord will qualify you financially.

Landlords are skeptical about accepting the programs because of their fears of bureaucracy, government mandates, and the constant fear that funding for the programs will be short-changed and they will be left holding the bag with tenants who cannot afford to pay the rent. Both New York City and New York State have dumped on building owners in the past, saddled them with restrictive mandates, and then been late with the rent. Landlords are justifiably fearful.

On the other hand, many landlords will accept government programs, but they want to find the “best qualified”, with the least dependence on the programs.

Now, you can begin to understand the key to successfully getting a response from the landlord.

First - You will have fewer problems finding your rental if your credit is good, even if you are on an assistance program. Good credit is ultra important.

Second - You will have fewer problems if one or more members of your household are working.

Third - Your chances improve if you can present yourself in a business-like way, both in your voice, your attitude, and the way you organize your search. Create a cover letter for your applications.

Fourth - The landlord’s first impression of you is extremely important. I can’t emphasize this point enough. When you call a landlord, don’t start off the conversation by aggressively asking, “Do you take programs?”. The answer is going to be, I can assure you, “No!” followed by a swift hanging up of the phone.

Be smart about it. You need to “sell yourself” first to the landlord. Put your best features forward first . You might begin the conversation like this:

“Hello, My name is Earl Smith. I’m calling because I’m interested in your 1 bedroom apartment at 123 Main Street in Brooklyn.

I’m a family man and have a good job. I earn X amount per year. I have very decent credit (or good credit) and I have been receiving Section 8 for the past 2 years. As you know, that means that you will receive a guaranteed check from the government to pay part of my rent.

My wife and I would like very much to see your apartment as soon as possible. If we like the apartment, we are prepared to move on it very quickly and the vouchers we have can be directed to you. Can we see the apartment tomorrow afternoon?”

While there is no guarantee that this approach will work 100% of the time, it will be effective if you are comfortable with what you are saying. Do not lie when talking to the landlord. Speak only the truth, although you can put the truth in its most favorable light. You might want to even practice a few times with a friend or spouse. Be comfortable with what you are saying.

Notice that you start off by introducing yourself clearly. Then you can say whether you are a single individual or a family man. By saying family man, you are not saying whether you are married or not, but you clearly have a significant other person in your life who will be living with you.

Then you tell them that you have a job and what your income is. (Know your annual income!) If you don’t have a job, but your wife or significant other has a job, mention that job and income. If neither of you has a job, do you have any other supplemental income? Disability? A military pension? If you have nothing but the government housing program, you are going to have a harder time.

Tell the landlord if you have good credit or decent credit. He’s going to find out anyhow, so you might as well tell them if your financially responsible. If you have bad or terrible credit read the section on what to do with bad credit.

“As you know, that means that you will receive a guaranteed check from the government to pay part of my rent.”is just a way of reminding the landlord that you know is biggest concern is getting paid the rent on time, every single month. This is a subtle reminder that Section 8 has the advantage of paying the rent directly to the landlord - which is the part they like.

And then finally, asking when you can see the apartment and letting them know that you are serious by being able to move quickly on the apartment if you like it.

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