February 05, 2022
Bucks County is extending its program which provides cash incentives to landlords who lease to low-income renters, many of whom are at risk of experiencing homelessness. Real estate professionals who refer landlords to the program are also eligible for a check.
It was supposed to conclude at the end of January, but the program was extended through July 31 with funding from the federal government's CARES Act.
For the next six months, landlords can get a bonus equal to two months of rent for signing a year-long lease with a tenant enrolled in Bucks County Housing Link, the county's housing crisis response system. The bonus was previously one month's rent.
Additionally, real estate professionals and landlords who refer other landlords to the program are eligible for a $2,000 "finder's fee" if that landlord ends up renting to someone enrolled in the program.
So far, the program has attracted 12 landlords and paid $15,000 out to them, said Jeff Fields, the county's director of housing and community development, according to the Courier Times. Thirty people in 12 households have been placed in rental units through the initiative.
Fields hopes to add 20 more landlords to Housing Link's rolls through the program, which would bring his department up to its goal of having 180 participating landlords – a 20% increase from what Housing Link had before the program.
Fields said the idea of the program is to incentivize landlords to "take a chance" on a tenant that may have a poor credit score or evictions in their rental history.
But affordable housing is a rarity in the county and rents are rising in the area. Some housing advocates believe not enough is being done for those struggling to afford the cost of housing.
Getting access to assistance through programs like the Bucks County’s Emergency Rental Assistance initiative, which began in March 2021, can be very challenging, housing advocate Brit Montoro told WHYY.
She said people are often denied from the program if they make just over the income limit and that it can take months for people to learn whether or not they've been accepted.
One man struggling with homelessness in Bucks County told WHYY he was accepted into BERA but that at least 10 landlords he's tried to rent from have refused because of his dependence on the program.
Still, Fields told WHYY that more than $27 million has been dispersed through BERA so far and that there's still another $35 million available.
Although the homelessness rate in the county was down 13.5% in January 2021 from what it was a year earlier according to Housing Link, there were roughly 3,000 evictions filed in Bucks County in 2021 according to Southeastern Pennsylvania Legal Aid, which is up from 2,000 in 2020.
Additionally, 40% of renters in the county are considered "rent-burdened," meaning they're spending more than 30% of their household income on housing.
Montoro wondered why these cash incentives would be provided for landlords but not tenants.
“The money still goes to the landlord," she told WHYY. "It’s not a benefit to the tenant other than just to keep their housing."