How the Housing Choice Voucher Program Works in Washington, DC

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You don’t have to be in real estate to be familiar with the Federal Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), or Section 8. HCVP is a part of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 — Section 8, to be precise — and ensures that low-income households have access to “decent housing and a suitable living environment” apart from public housing. 

The impetus behind HCVP was to remove low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled from the environments of violence, drug use, and crime that were prevalent in public housing in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Housing vouchers pay rent subsidies to landlords, giving those with low incomes the chance to live in “better” neighborhoods, improved employment opportunities, better schools, less crime, and greater amenities. 

How the Housing Choice Voucher Program Works

More than 13,000 D.C. metro area residents benefit from HCVP vouchers and over 90,000 residents qualify for them, according to The housing shortage takes them out of the equation.

The qualifying standard to be eligible for a housing voucher is income. Combined household income must be less than 50% of the median income in the resident’s community (the Area Median Income, or AMI.) In the Metro area, that’s about $50,000 for the baseline family of four.

The reality is that most voucher holders’ income is closer to $30,000 (based on 2016 numbers). It is clear that $30,000 is not enough for “decent” housing in the District. This means low-income residents are “rent-burdened” and pay more than 30% of their income in monthly housing expenses. Housing assistance caps the amount residents pay out of pocket at that 30% and the voucher pays the balance. The D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) oversees the voucher program in the District, and pays rent directly to the landlords. 

When a household gets a voucher — there is a long waitlist, and the DCHA allots vouchers by lottery — it is required to find housing within 60 days. Any place the holder finds must fall within HUD’s Fair Market Rent (FMR) guidelines, which in 2019 was $1,665 for a two-bedroom apartment. A four-bedroom residence had an FMR of $2,678. 

Housing Vouchers in the Metro Area

Congress allocates the number of vouchers available to every administrating authority based on available funding. As stated earlier, there are approximately 13,000 in the Metro area. Most of those vouchers are tenant-based, which means the voucher goes with the holder when he or she moves out. Project-based vouchers are attached to specific properties based on landlord qualifications, and are capped at 30% of vouchers in the D.C. area.

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The Housing Choice Voucher Program’s Impact on Housing Laws and Rentals

While it is permissible for landlords to require a certain income level for tenant approval, it is NOT permissible to refuse to rent a property because the tenant has a housing voucher. According to the Code of the District of Columbia, 

(c) The owner of a housing accommodation shall not refuse to rent a dwelling unit to a person because the person will provide his or her rental payment, in whole or in part, through a Section 8 voucher.

The code goes on to confirm that vouchers should be considered income and factored into the tenant’s ability to pay. In fact, D.C. law goes so far as to include “sources of income” as a protected class, along with race, gender, and disability. What this means in practice is that landlords cannot advertise that they will not accept vouchers. 

Where Is the Most Active DC Area for Housing Vouchers?

Washington, D.C. is the most socioeconomically distant city in the country. High-income residents live in the Northwest quadrant, where homeownership is highest, and the lowest-income residents are east of the Anacostia River

A 2013 study by the Urban Institute found Washington, D.C. had the lowest denial rate for housing vouchers among studied metropolitan areas. One of the reasons for this relatively low rate is that the DCHA varies its payment maximum by neighborhood. The standard for a unit in Columbia Heights will differ from the standard in adjacent Petworth, for example.

That a landlord can realize market rents with housing vouchers makes it more attractive to market to the demographic that holds them. There are pockets of residents using housing vouchers throughout the city — even Georgetown has a few units in the program. 

Benefits of Being a Housing Choice Voucher Program Landlord

Real estate investors who are interested in working with housing vouchers have incentives to participate in the HCVP. 

How The Housing Choice Voucher Program Works In Washington, DC

That tenants who occupy residences via housing vouchers are more likely to be high-risk for property damage is a common misconception. The reality is that the DCHA screens prospective tenants before granting vouchers, so anyone who applies for housing has already passed that background check. These are some other advantages to accepting housing vouchers. 

  • You can determine market rent and are exempt from rent controls. 
  • There is limited paperwork. You sign a contract with the HCVP and a standard year-long lease with the tenant. After a year, you can renew on a monthly basis. 
  • You’ll get paid by direct deposit. If the tenant has a loss in income, D.C. Housing will make up the shortfall. Knowing you’ll be paid regardless of your tenant’s finances brings great peace of mind for most landlords who carry mortgages. 
  • Vacancies are practically unheard of in D.C., but more so for housing units that accept vouchers. There are so few options for low-income housing that you will not have many rent-free months. 
  • Landlords who accept vouchers are required to maintain the property in good repair, and you’ll get a free inspection every year to make that easier and ensure that the property is in compliance with Housing Quality Standards (HQS). You’ll be charged $75 for the third inspection if your unit fails two consecutive inspections — a far cry from the hundreds of dollars you’d pay for a private inspection. 

How to Make the Housing Choice Voucher Program Work for You

Working with the Housing Choice Voucher Program in the D.C. area is unique in that the District has implemented a broad range of laws that encourage landlords to accept vouchers. If you are thinking about investing in property for low-income residents, you need a property manager like Nomadic Real Estate who’s familiar with D.C. Housing regulations. Our professionals can help ensure you are within fair housing compliance and your properties meet HQS standards. Contact us today to learn more

Alternatively, if you are looking for a place to rent, check out our DC rentals.

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Enhanced Reporting

Your portal includes a selection of extremely useful reports. Reports are available in the “Reports” section, and are distinct from the financial statements. Unlike financial statements which are static records, Reports are dynamic real-time records that will update with current data every time you view them. 

Scroll down to learn more about Reports:

Navigate to the "Reports" module in your portal:

Owner Portal Reports
  • Keep in mind, these reports are dynamic records. They will refresh to display current information every time you view them. 

Enhanced Rent Roll Report:

Enhanced Rent Roll Report
  • The Enhanced Rent Roll Report will show the rent amount, last payment date, move-in date, lease expiration date, and security deposit amount for each of your tenants. 
  • It will also show a portfolio summary with occupancy percentage, vacancy loss, and more!

Unit Comparison Report:

Unit Comparison Report
  • If you own multiple units (or buildings) with Nomadic, you’ll get access to the Unit Comparison Report. 
  • This report enables you to quickly compare financial performance between your units at a glance without toggling between individual reports. 

Income Statement Month-Over-Month:

Income Statement by Month Report
  • The Income Statement Detail – Monthly Report serves as a month-over-month record of portfolio performance. You’ll see itemized income and expense categories and can track monthly. This report will update with fresh data every time you view it. 

Financial Statements

Financial statements will be published to your portal on a monthly basis. The statements are found in your Documents library, and provide a historical record of all financial performance. The statements serve as a snapshot of financial performance over a given period, and are static documents (unlike Reports, the statements do not update/change in real-time). 

Scroll down for more info about the Financial Statements in your Documents library:

The Documents area contains monthly financial statements:

Owner Portal Documents
  • The statements in the Documents are are static documents. They are posted to the portal once a month to serve as a historical record of financial performance. 

Download a statement to see month and YTD financials:

Owner Portal Property Statement

You'll also find a month-over-month operating statement:

Month over Month Statement

Portal Communication Tool

You can use your owner portal to communicate with our team. Any messages you send through the portal will go straight to your Account Manager. When we reply, you’ll get an email notification and you’ll also see the message in your portal next time you log in. 

Here’s an overview of using the communication platform:

Click "Communications" and navigate to "Conversations":

Commincation Dashboard Screenshot
  • The communications module will contain a record of all messages that you create through the portal. 

Click the "New Message" button and send your message:

Owner Portal New Message Screenshot

Responses will show up in the conversation ticket:

Portal Conversation Response Screenshot
  • You’ll get an email notification whenever you get a response, and you’ll also see the message in your portal next time you log in. 

You can reply in-line using the comment box:

Owner Portal Comment

Each conversation will be logged in its entirety:

Portal Conversation Snapshot

Understanding the Ledger

Your portal includes a ledger with all transactions. The ledger is populated with data in real-time as transactions flow through our accounting software. Much of this information is also available in the Reports area, as well as the Statements in your Documents library, but the ledger is the most comprehensive resource for diving into the details. 

Please scroll through the sections below to get a better understanding of how to interpret the ledger. 

By default, transactions are sorted chronologically:

Owner Ledger Dates
  • The date reflected in the lefthand column is the actual transaction date, not the “bill date”. This is the date the transaction was actually processed. 

If you have multiple properties with Nomadic, you'll see the address for each transaction in the "Location" column:

Ledger Property Column
  • You can filter the ledger to look at just one property, all properties, or specific sets of properties. 
  • If you only have one property with us, you’ll just see the ledger for that property. 

The Description column displays the transaction type:

Owner Ledger Description Column
  • BILL: this is an expense transaction, such as for repair costs or management fees.
  • CHARGE: this is a transaction  billed to the tenant, most typically a rent payment. 
  • NACHA EXPORT: this is a credit we processed to your distribution account. This type of transaction is how you get paid! 

The Amount column shows the dollar value of each transaction:

Owner Ledger Amount Column
  • Positive Amounts: if an amount is positive, it reflects a transaction that is payable to you. Typically, this will be a rent payment that we collected from your tenants. On occasion, a positive number could also signify a journal entry or credit adjustment. 
  • Negative Amounts:  if an amount is negative, this is a transaction that is either payable to Nomadic or is an amount that has already been paid to you. Typically this will be for repair costs or management/leasing fees. Owner draws (net distributions into your checking/savings account) also reflect as negative amounts, since they have already been paid to you. 

The Account Balance column shows a sum of positive/negative transactions at a given point in time:

Owner Ledger Account Balance Column
  • Account Balance should always equal zero after a net distribution has been processed. When the balance is zero, this means that all expenses have been paid and you’ve received the remainder as net operating income, leaving a balance of zero (meaning: no one is due any money, as all funds have been distributed appropriately). 

Navigating the Propertyware Owner Portal

Your portal includes some extremely useful features that help you understand your property’s financial performance at a new level, with real-time transparency into every transaction.

Scroll through the snapshots below for an overview of portal navigation! If you need more help or have specific questions about using the portal, you can reach out to your Account Manager any time for a screen share. 

You can filter all info by date range or property:

PW Portal Filters

View a snapshot of income and expenses on your dashboard:

PW Owner Dashboard View

See every transaction in real-time on your ledger:

Owner Portal Ledger View

Statements and forms will be posted to your documents library:

Owner Portal Document Library

View a suite of real-time financial reports:

Portal Reports View

See a running list of all bills, and drill down for more detail:

Owner Portal Bills View

Under Bill Details, you'll find dates/descriptions/amounts and more:

Portal Bill Details

You can also communicate with your Account Manager through the portal:

Owner Portal Communication Tools

How do net distributions work?

Net distributions keep your accounting clean and simple. Each month we’ll collect rent from the tenants, deduct any repair expenses for the previous month and any management/leasing fees for the current month, and credit the remaining net operating income to your account. 

Net Distribution

You’ll receive a statement via email each time a net distribution is processed, and can view all transaction details in your Propertyware owner portal.