Alameda County launches incentives for landlords to welcome the homeless into rental units

Although many housing providers have preconceived notions about Section 8 tenancies and other rental applicants, property owners should keep an open mind and at least consider whether the program is a fit. 

Recognizing that housing is a basic need for health and safety, Alameda County is rolling out a program aimed at incentivizing property owners to rent their units to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, under the banner of AC Homes. Major community partners include Adobe Services, East Bay Innovations, and Bay Area Community Services.

Tenants matched for the program pay of percentage of their income, and the balance of the rent is supported with government and philanthropic funding. A key selling point is that landlords will receive guaranteed on-time monthly payments from nonprofit organizations. In addition to a steady stream of income, a security deposit is provided, as well as a $4,000 damage guarantee in what amounts to an insurance policy. As an added perk, new landlords receive a $1,000 bonus for each new unit dedicated to the program.

The overarching goal is to ensure that everybody has a place to call home, while providing landlords stable income and stable tenancies.

For Kerry Abbott, the Director of the Office of Homeless Care and Prevention, addressing the intractable homelessness problem takes a village. "To end homelessness, we need a community effort that includes the private housing market. Our goal is to provide housing and support to our clients while offering financial security for property owners,” she said in the November publication of Apartment Owners Association Magazine.

With the stated goal of identifying at least 300 housing units by the end of 2020, landlords have been called upon to lease units to those in most desperate need, and we think it is worthy of exploration. We do understand that some rental property owners have their reservations.

Getting the elephant out of the room

Although Alameda County’s initiative is not Section 8 housing, many landlords will fail to make the distinction and apply the same preconceived notions about renters who receive assistance. There are some similarities, but stark differences stand out. Some context is in order.

In our many musings on fair housing laws and the acceptance of housing vouchers, we have always stated that we operate under the presumption that there are good tenants and bad tenants and, by the same token, there are good landlords and bad landlords. No group should be painted with a broad brush, and lawmakers have agreed by enacting laws banning discrimination on source of income.

Related post: Section 8 housing and our legal takes

Krista Gulbransen, for one, is willing to keep an open mind in renting to those who do not have a place to call home and is encouraged by Alameda County’s pledge to have an intermediary on standby to resolve any landlord-tenant issues.

The Executive Director of the Berkeley Property Owners Association says that many of their members have an antipathy to Section 8 because of the difficulty in transitioning out problematic tenants. She says that housing counselors have historically been “very reluctant to do anything to risk the tenant losing their housing unit, no matter how bothersome or troublesome the tenant is,” a storyline she has seen play out time and time again.

Landlords have been promised "air support" in the form of all aspects of renting apartments, including the interviewing process, while maintaining an ongoing footprint in the social and economic needs of residents. Gulbransen is cautiously optimistic, noting there is no reason not to take AC Homes at their word that there will be a single point of contact to help with any tenant issues that may arise.

Staffers of the program are quick to point out that housing providers will set their own tenant screening criteria. Unlike the ceilings on rent amounts the government will pay out in Section 8, landlords will be entitled to full market rate, get an up-front security deposit, and not be subjected to frequent inspections and a labyrinth of regulations. Our conclusion, then, is this program is a whole different creature than Section 8.

The program aside, transitioning tenants out is ordinarily difficult in these times

The Alameda County courts have been especially slow to relight during the pandemic, and except for the most egregious of acts like arson, violence, drug dealing and the like, nuisance cases are not being heard anytime soon.

It is entirely possible that landlords can hand over the keys to a new tenant who becomes problematic with little recourse available in the near future, even if there is an underlying “just cause” to evict because the courts have been slowed to a crawl.

Parting thoughts

There are risks every time a tenancy is commenced, and Bornstein Law wants you to think smartly about your selection of a tenant. Someone who has fallen on tough times should not be summarily excluded from a pool of rental candidates, however.

We applaud Alameda County’s matchmaking service in bringing together many community stakeholders and landlords to put a dent in the homeless crisis, and their entreaties should be carefully considered.

For further information on renting out a housing unit to those in dire need, you can call the hotline at 510-777-2100, or email