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Wichita seeking more landlords to participate in housing voucher program

Wichita needs more landlords to participate in its housing voucher program, city officials say.
Celia Hack
Wichita needs more landlords to participate in its housing voucher program, city officials say.

The city will hold an informational session on the housing choice voucher program on Wednesday.

The city of Wichita will hold an informational session about its housing choice voucher program Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Evergreen Recreation Center.

The voucher program, also known as Section 8, provides rent assistance to eligible families who can select their own house or apartment to rent. The city of Wichita distributes about 3,000 vouchers to low-income individuals and families.

But not enough landlords in Wichita are accepting the vouchers as a form of payment, according to Sally Stang, the city’s director of housing services. She said that more than 500 individuals or families have received vouchers from the city but can’t find a house or apartment to rent.

One reason for that is an increase in apartment complexes sold to owners who don’t participate in subsidy programs, Stang said.

“We’ve seen a lot of turnover,” Stang said. “Apartment complexes being sold to out-of-state owners who come in and say, ‘We don’t do assistance.’ ”

The tight real estate market also makes vouchers less appealing, said Andy Pfister with Development Strategies, a consulting firm working with the city on housing plans.

“With the current market, there’s fewer landlords accepting vouchers, particularly those (renters) with more challenged rental histories,” Pfister said in a City Council workshop. “Because they can rent them at a higher rate easily to anybody today.”

Stang is hoping to pitch the city’s housing voucher program to landlords at Wednesday’s meeting. She said the city has made upgrades to the program, such as assigning the same inspector and caseworkers to one building, that may make it more attractive to landlords.

Jason Carmichael owns more than a dozen properties in Wichita, and three have tenants that use housing vouchers. He said he’s never had problems with voucher-holders damaging his properties, and he would be open to leasing his other properties to people with vouchers.

But his concern is how slowly the program moves. The housing voucher program requires units to be inspected prior to a tenant moving in, and Carmichael said that process can take a long time.

“HUD [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] usually takes a month or two before they even come out and look at the house. I’m not waiting around for them,” Carmichael said. “Why should I lose out on two months worth of rent when I can just get a regular person to move in?”

Stang said that the average time it takes to get an inspector to a unit is three days.

Kevin Kimmel, another landlord in Wichita, said he hasn’t had recent problems with inspections taking a long time. He owns more than 50 rental properties in the city, of which a “reasonable percentage” house tenants with vouchers.

“Overall, it has been a good program,” Kimmell said. “It keeps people housed at a reasonable cost, and the landlord has a reasonable assurance of getting paid.”

He said that the difficulty of housing tenants with vouchers is due to the hot real estate market — and that everyone, no matter if they have a voucher or not, is struggling to find a house.

“We haven’t had a vacancy in six months,” Kimmel said. “We get five, 10 calls a day (of) people wanting a rental. … Everybody’s full right now.”

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.