Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Scarlet "U" -- And How to Find Subsidized Housing

If your son or daughter is planning on moving out on their own, the chance is they'll need housing assistance in the form of a housing voucher from you local housing authority.  OK, once you luck out and are one of the lucky few who gets one of these vouchers (that are few and far between) what next?

Your housing authority will give you a list of approved housing, apartments that are already approved by the Housing Authority, and you are welcome to check them out.   But we live in suburban Philadelphia, and the apartments they referred us to were... well... dangerous.  Especially for a girl living on her own.  So what to do? How can you find an apartment that will be SAFE and be willing to take a housing voucher?

In our area I quickly found that apartment complexes usually didn't want to accept these vouchers, and legally they don't have to.  After making multiple (over 20) phone calls, I finally took the hint--there's no room at the inn, if you're disabled and have a housing voucher.  You're unwanted. Undesirable.  Presumed to be the tenant from hell.  So where to next?

I then moved on to my local newspaper and Craigslist.  Again, I ran into "No," and "No" again and again.  And a few more colorful comments from rental agents about people with vouchers.  It didn't matter that my daughter wasn't like the tenants they described, simply having a housing voucher put a huge "U" on her forehead for UNDESIRABLE. 

But never let it be said we didn't persevere.  We talked to people living in apartments hoping they'd let us know when an opening was coming up so we could be the first one's in the door.  But that didn't work.

And sometimes it wasn't that they didn't want my daughter, it was there was NO WAY my daughter was going to live in the conditions some apartments offered.  The ones occupied by armies of cockroaches.  The brigades of mice and other rodents.  Oh yes, and then the ones with the drug dealers living in the apartment across the hall.  After the next 20 places we looked at we were getting really discouraged.  You only have a limited amount of time to  find an apartment so I was getting a tad desperate.

But along the way I learned a few things. One was that taking my daughter with us to ask about the apartment always got a better response than just calling on the phone.  Yep, it's way harder to turn down a five foot tall 100lb soaking wet 27 year old than it is tell me over the phone 'no room at the inn for people with housing vouchers.'  Her excitement over moving out was contagious.  She had a unique way of making people who really couldn't change policies want to change them.  And when after 79 phone calls we finally found her an apartment from the 80th call we learned the most important thing--it's not how pretty the apartment is or it's location, it's about finding a good match between a landlord and your son or daughter. 

Kate's landlord, Nick, is great.  He fixes things if they break and well, let just say one of the things we were all thankful for on Thanksgiving was Nick.  Nick takes care of Kate--looks out for her interests.  Not in an intrusive way but she feels secure knowing if something goes wrong in her apartment he'll be there to take care of it as soon as possible. 

So that's my suggestion, look for a landlord who is a good match between your son or daughter.  Yes, it's nice if the apartment has a pool, or a washer dryer in the apartment, or the heat is paid for as part of the rent, but best of all, the one perk an apartment can have is a landlord who cares.  And care back.  Take care of his apartment--make him/her glad they rented to you. So when it's someone else's turn to try to rent from him/her they'll have a good experience with The Housing Authority to look back on. Pay it forward.

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