Audio in hot los angeles rental market, veterans with housing vouchers are being turned away 89.3 kpcc electricity video ks2

Any Angeleno who’s hopped online lately looking to rent a new apartment knows that the Southern California housing market is tight. There’s not a lot of inventory, and what is available costs a pretty penny. Selling yourself as a desirable tenant is part of the house-hunting dance.

“This rental market is not quite as welcoming as it used to be, and we’ve seen examples of landlords discriminating against veterans and people on active duty,” said State Senator Jerry Hill of San Mateo and Santa Clara. “When I see an injustice, I get mad.”

These vouchers are a joint benefit from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs. They combine cash for rent on the private market with check-ins from a VA caseworker, healthcare, and services like substance abuse treatment. The package has proven successful at moving chronically homeless vets off the street. The Department of Housing and Urban Development says nationwide, more than 87,000 vouchers have been awarded and approximately 144,000 homeless veterans have been served by the vouchers since 2008.

Halvorsen and Del Castillo figured their voucher was plenty to cover a 1-bedroom in L.A. And not too long ago, they thought they’d found their apartment in a building in North Hollywood. It was even going well with the landlord, who was on a list of housing authority-approved renters.

If HUD-VASH vouchers go unused, they expire. It generally happens after 120 days unless the veteran gets a hardship extension. KPCC previously reported on the difficulty veterans face tracking down landlords willing to take HUD-VASH rental vouchers. Earlier this year, a sting by Washington’s attorney general uncovered dozens of properties in ten cities across the state that were flatly refusing to rent to veterans with vouchers.

“That’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s not really as I would look at it the American way,” Senator Hill said. His bill would classify HUD-VASH vouchers as income in California, theoretically putting vets on an equal footing with other would-be renters.

The California Apartment Association (CAA), which represents apartment owners and developers, opposes that provision of the SB 1427. It argues the law would overburden housing authorities by forcing all rental property owners to participate in the voucher program. And critics say it’s not fair for veteran vouchers to be prioritized over Section 8, where renters can be stuck on a waiting list for years.

“While protecting and caring for our veterans is important, SB 1427 would give veterans priority over low income families, individuals with disabilities, and students,” said Debra Carlton, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs with the CAA. “We believe tenants should all have an equal opportunity. This bill is basically allowing them to cut in line.” UNDESIRABLE?

Finding a place that will accept a voucher is a start, but there are more hoops to jump through. The landlord has to submit paperwork called a “Request for Tenancy Approval Form” to the local housing authority, and the apartment has to pass an extra inspection. Then the housing authority negotiates over the price of rent.

Gray says he also confronts a lingering stigma surrounding veteran status when he’s trying to make a housing match between landlord and tenant. “I’ve been asked straight forward: What type of mental illness does he have? Or is he suffering from PTSD?” Gray said, adding he wishes there was more education for landlords to better understand the HUD-VASH process and its wraparound services designed to keep veteran renters on-track.

Months of searching, application fees, and the price of gas are exhausting the couple’s resources. Once in a while they stop by to use the shower at Del Castillo’s father’s place. But Halvorsen said it feels like they’re running out of favors.