211007ind vouchers

Linda Tucker is pictured in front of one of her rental properties at 540 Slocum Road in North Kingstown, where she accepts South Kingstown Housing Authority rent vouchers.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — In a hot real estate market that has sent many landlords away from renting, the South Kingstown Housing Authority wants to provide financial assistance to entice owners to reconsider renting their properties.  

The authority has announced that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has given it about $180,000 for rental assistance to area low-income families.

“The combination of a hot housing market and an increased demand for vacation and student rentals has caused rents to skyrocket, while many working families are struggling with increased expenses and reductions in income,” said Laura Lee Costello, SKHA’s executive director.

Last year SKHA was awarded 20 vouchers, but could only use a few because of the unavailability of rentals. This year it has enough money for 30 vouchers and wants to use them all. The authority is on the hunt now for help with its effort.

Scarcity is a problem facing anyone looking — regardless of ability to pay — and it’s hitting low- and very low-income people with a sledgehammer.

“The U.S. has a shortage of 6.8 million rental homes affordable and available to extremely low-income renters, whose household incomes are at or below the poverty guideline or 30% of their area median income,” according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

A year ago the state Commission of Health Advocacy and Equity reported that there were no communities in Rhode Island with sufficient low- to moderate-income housing units. Most communities have one affordable housing unit for every five eligible households.

One aspect particular to South County is that many part-time summer residents became year-round ones because they could work from home and escape COVID hot spots in cities, such as New York and Boston.

With few homes or apartments available, prices have shot up for all properties. In addition, real estate sales are booming and leading landlords to sell properties for record prices, said those involved with real estate transactions.

For those caught in the squeeze, it’s a difficult situation for town officials to ease. Several said they don’t have the resources to eliminate the problem.


Jonnycake Center Assistance

Here’s where the local Jonnycake Center for Hope and Executive Director Kate Brewster have become champions of the rental cause.

“Many of the voucher holders are working in our retail stores, home health care, and hospitality industries but their wages simply aren’t enough to afford the skyrocketing rents in the area. A voucher can bridge the gap between income and monthly rent,” said Brewster.

It has special programs, which also come with some funding, to help augment those both getting SKHA vouchers and others.

The center said it will “work with landlords to find a package of incentives that are designed to improve your rental experience with modest-income, working households and/or those using federal housing vouchers.”

It noted the following incentives as part of its assistance package:

Access to risk mitigation funds to cover unpaid rent or excess damage.

Access to Jonnycake property maintenance services and routine inspections. It also includes potential cleaning services on a routine basis.

Case management for tenants to help them manage life’s challenges.

Referrals of applicants who have completed an eight-hour certification course that encourages healthy tenant behaviors and tenant/landlord relationships.

It also plans a sign-on bonus up to $2,500 for landlords.

For renters, the center also has some help.

It offers a free “ready to rent” certification course that prepares households to be responsible tenants and neighbors.

Financial assistance to fill in the gaps with security deposits and income interruptions.

A housing specialist to help find a suitable unit.

Case management to help secure services and resources to help with issues so they don’t cause a problem with housing stability.

Costello said, “With this additional grant funding we are going to be able to assist many more people than we had originally anticipated. We will begin approving vouchers, focusing on South Kingstown residents, this month, and would like to issue approximately thirty before the end of the year.”

“If we are not able to get voucher-holders ‘leased-up,’ unfortunately, HUD will rescind this grant funding,” she added.


Tenants and Landlords

Doug Farris found housing through the Jonnycake Center’s efforts of connecting landlords with potential tenants, including those with vouchers for assistance.

“I was so grateful to receive a voucher and was desperate to find a place in town so I could continue walking to work on Main Street,” South Kingstown resident Ferris said in July.

“The Jonnycake Center was able to connect me with a landlord who trusts the center and was willing to accept the voucher. It’s been a game changer for moving my life forward,” he said.

Linda Tucker is a landlord who has accepted vouchers twice from the SKHA for her apartments in North Kingstown.

“It has been terrific. No issues at all,” she said, noting that her last voucher tenant was a young couple that left in June after purchasing their own home.

“They left the apartment perfectly, just as when they moved in…From a landlord’s point of view, you still get the reference, you meet the people and you have a lease. It is the same as having a regular tenant,” she said.

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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