In Nashville's quest to preserve affordable housing for low-income residents, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency is trying to convince more landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers. The agency has been holding regular informational meetings in the hopes of reversing a steady decline over the past few years.
People who get rental assistance make less than half the median income in a region. In Nashville, that means making $24,000 for an individual or $34,250 for a family of four. They pay at least 30 percent of their monthly income toward rent, and MDHA provides a housing voucher to make up some or all of the difference. (There's a complex formula to determine exactly how much Section 8 will subsidize.)
Nashville housing officials say these tenants sometimes get a bad rap as being potentially unreliable. At an informational meeting for landlords last week, they tried to reverse that stereotype, describing Section 8 recipients as needy but respectful.
Larry Lyons, a landlord who is looking to buy more properties in Nashville, came to the meeting to decide if he wants to accept Section 8 vouchers. He said he's heard there are a lot of benefits to the program.
"As I understand it, the families that get approved for Section 8 try very hard to follow the lease and follow the rules because they value that benefit," he said. "So actually you get better renters than when they're not Section 8."
Plus, landlords get a guaranteed monthly check from the government to pay for part of the rent — something many landlords see as a major benefit.
Still, Lyons said he's not sure he'll sign up. Real estate prices are high in Nashville, and depending on where he buys properties, he might have to charge a lot for rent, he said. Even with Section 8 vouchers, low-income residents might not be able to afford it.
This is a common concern, said Norman Deep, who oversees MDHA's rental assistance program. There are limits to how much MDHA can subsidize.
"The rental market has taken off, where it's harder for us to compete with market rents," he said. It's a challenge keeping landlords on board, "because they can rent almost double what they have been renting for."
In 2012, the number of landlords in Nashville who accepted Section 8 vouchers was 1,204. It declined to 1,062 in 2015. Dozens of landlords sign up each year — but it hasn't been enough to reverse the losses of those leaving the program.
In total, Nashville administers a little more than 7,000 housing assistance vouchers, and more than 13,000 people are on the waitlist, Deep said.
Deep said he tries to explain to property owners that there are benefits to the program — even though they probably can't make as much money accepting government vouchers as they could otherwise. Some are willing to take the price cut.
"You have to consider, the landlords are in it to make a profit," he said. "It's just, not all landlords are out there to make quadruple profits."