How Public Housing Authorities Can Improve Important Lease-Up Rates for Voucher Users

March 2, 2018

Resource-strapped public housing authorities often struggle to maintain healthy lease-up rates for their Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) programs.

Most agencies say the optimal voucher use rate would be about 95 percent to 98 percent of the vouchers issued.

But in some major cities, the average use rate hovers around 90 percent. And it can take months for voucher holders to find housing.

Successful HCV programs minimize the time between voucher issuance and lease-up. Here are some tips for ensuring the highest probability of getting voucher holders into units quickly and efficiently.

Work Closely with Your Shoppers

PHAs must work closely with shoppers, the clients who’ve been granted vouchers and need to find a place to live, especially first-timers. First, provide a thorough briefing before they go look for a home. They should understand the rules of the program, how the process works, and the true value of their voucher. An unprepared shopper is likely to become discouraged quickly.

The so-called “40 percent rule” is a source of confusion for new voucher holders. A family must pay 30 percent of its monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities. If rent is greater, the family must pay the additional amount – but not more than 40 percent of its adjusted monthly income for rent.

Other important HCV details include utility allowances, rent shares, and working with the PHA and landlord to close the deal. PHA staff should check in regularly with shoppers throughout the process and provide timely help.

Cultivate Relationships with Landlords

A PHA without strong landlord relationships is operating at a disadvantage. If your PHA is in a tight rental market like New York City, Seattle or San Francisco, those relationships are even more critical for lease-up success.

Landlords in tight markets can find private renters willing to pay more, without the site inspections and paperwork associated with PHAs. Landlord outreach programs can help overcome these obstacles. When landlords understand the voucher program and feel they have an advocate at the PHA, they are more likely to rent to voucher families.

Direct outreach to large landlords can be a worthwhile investment of PHA resources. PHAs with low lease-up rates or tenant issues might offer security deposit assistance or a special fund to cover tenant damages. Access to guaranteed funds can ease landlord concerns and open doors for shoppers.

Communication is also important. Consider using a landlord newsletter to provide updates and solicit input from your landlord community. Provide an online landlord portal to maintain two-way communication and address issues quickly. If landlords must come to your office every time they put in for a rent increase, that’s a burden. Make it easy to file paperwork and get help online.


Remove Barriers for Disabled, Elderly and Others

Some people have trouble searching for properties and managing the application process. Many PHAs offer navigators to help shoppers find a home. Navigators can be especially helpful during complex negotiations with landlords (particularly those unfamiliar with HCV vouchers), or by simply driving a shopper to prospective properties. Navigators can even help shoppers find properties with the best access to employment, schools and transportation.

A good shopper-property match leads to better socio-economic outcomes, improves lease-up metrics, and enhances the PHA’s reputation among potential landlords.


Housing voucher programs can have a profoundly positive impact on communities.

They literally open doors to safe, quality housing for low-income families.

Contact a CPA-based advisory firm for help in making the most of this program. PHAs that implement a strategic, thoughtful approach to dealing with shoppers and landlords are key to making those goals a reality.

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