There are about 2,500 households in Pittsburgh right now that’ve been waiting — and waiting and waiting. These families are on a waiting list that closed in 2015 for rent subsidies in the form of a housing voucher.
Housing Choice Vouchers are a hot commodity, and the City of Pittsburgh knows it. The HCV, a rental-assistance program that helps low-income and homeless families find homes, is facing possible shifts in the way they calculate how much rent a particular family would have to pay — and where they could possibly live.
Another one of those shifts is the relationship private landlords have with the voucher program. Recently, the City of Pittsburgh passed an ordinance stating that landlords must accept housing vouchers and cannot discriminate against tenants on the basis of having a housing voucher.
But as of last Thursday, that requirement is gone — and that’s for the better.
Though having more possible neighborhoods could positively impact the lives of the more than 5,200 households using vouchers across the City, the ordinance’s rules were far too strict for landlords to follow.
And after a public hearing last Tuesday, HACP decided to hold off until they can create a more thorough plan that would address community concerns, like a lack of increased opportunities in higher-rent neighborhoods and the already-present challenge to find landlords who accept vouchers. The projected plan will be ready for submission by July of this year.
While the opportunity to live in a higher-rent neighborhood would give residents a chance to have higher quality housing, the HACP did the right thing to listen to the concerns from the community.
One concern was the loss of voucher-housing options in neighborhoods that have traditionally housed many families with vouchers, like Hazelwood. These neighborhoods have experienced some rejuvenation and increased prosperity thanks to funds from voucher rents.
The decision to address community concerns with a more comprehensive plan is particularly apt. Last Thursday, a judge ruled the city ordinance requiring landlords to accept housing vouchers to be “invalid and unenforceable,” saying it violates Pittsburgh’s Home Rule Charter which prevents the City from regulating “private businesses.”
Though the ruling may seem harsh, it’s important to remember that the overturning of this ordinance doesn’t actually prevent landlords from accepting vouchers in higher-rent neighborhoods. It’s simply removing the obligation for landlords.
The ordinance had previously gone unenforced — landlords were not required to accept vouchers while a lawsuit fighting against the ordinance was pending — and Tuesday’s ruling was the final nail in the coffin.
One of the concerns community members had with recalculation of fair market rent was that it would be difficult to find landlords willing to accept the housing vouchers in higher-end neighborhoods. In choosing to postpone changing fair-market-rent calculations, the HACP is meeting the needs of communities with a high volume of housing-voucher recipients.
Without an ordinance to ensure housing-voucher recipients are able to find housing, the chances of recipients finding affordable housing are slimmer, even in neighborhoods where housing vouchers are common.
If voucher holders tried to move to pricier neighborhoods with an increased subsidy, it is likely they will face an even more difficult time finding a place to live.
Subsidizing rent costs allows low-income households to reinvest in their properties via renovations and maintain higher standards of upkeep. According to comments from a public hearing last Tuesday, this reinvestment in individual properties leads to community reinvestment in areas with a high concentration of voucher holders, such as Hazelwood, and increased the standard of living for people who receive housing vouchers.
Additionally, there is little social or economic benefit for creating mixed-income communities. According to a study from the Urban Institute, some low-income residents reported feeling stigmatized by their wealthier neighbors, and the study found little interaction between income levels. Residents in mixed-income communities often reported not knowing their immediate neighbors’ names, and rarely spending time with community members whose socioeconomic status differed from theirs.
HACP’s decision here serves as a great example of a government working for the community instead of blindly complying with bureaucracy — especially from a federal agency that does not have the same level of community feedback.
The City did well to heed resident concerns before it can move forward with any plan to recalculate subsidies for housing-voucher recipients — failing to do so would be failing communities in need.
Write to Delilah at email@example.com