Eight years ago, Army veteran Michael White lost nearly everything he owned in a house fire.
By winter 2014, White was living out of a storage unit on Western Boulevard in Raleigh. Until six months ago, he bounced from shelter to shelter.
Now White, who is in his 60s, lives in an apartment off Sunnybrook Road and says things are better than they’ve been in years. He is one of 37 veterans who have participated in the last two years in a Wake County housing program that leaders say is underutilized.
County Commissioner Matt Calabria, who represents southern Wake County, is calling on local landlords to participate in the county’s Housing Voucher Program, which guarantees rent for landlords who accept homeless and disabled tenants looking for housing through the county.
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More than 200 people – 50 of them veterans – are on a waiting list for the program. The problem: Wake doesn’t have enough private-sector landlords participating.
“This program is designed to be a win-win,” Calabria said. “Landlords who offer the right type rentals not only are guaranteed rent payments but also provide much-needed help for veterans, who need it most.”
Under the program, tenants who have incomes must pay 30 percent of it toward rent and utilities. Wake pays the entire cost for tenants who don’t have incomes.
If the housing situation doesn’t work out with a tenant for whatever reason, Wake pays up to three months of rent so the landlord can find a new tenant or repair any damage.
Calabria plans to raise awareness about the program during a press conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday at a participating apartment complex in Raleigh. His effort comes as Wake County and Raleigh leaders push to expand their affordable housing stocks for middle- and low-income residents.
The county’s program faces some obstacles. It’s not widely advertised, and to qualify for the program, landlords must offer specific rental rates: $700-$725 for one bedroom, $800-$825 for two bedrooms or $975-$1,000 for three bedrooms.
The price restrictions pose a challenge because Wake’s rental market is hot, and landlords don’t have to offer low rates to lure tenants, said Debra King, chief executive of CASA, a local nonprofit that develops, funds and manages affordable housing units in the Triangle.
CASA participates in the county’s voucher program but is at capacity. It has 400 affordable housing units in 56 settings across the Triangle, including 307 in Wake.
“A lot of people don’t take rental subsidies because the market is thriving so much right now,” King said.
She emphasized affordable housing as a key tool for helping the mentally ill, who Wake commissioners aim to help with next year’s government budget.
“If you don’t have a place to go, how do you address other behavioral health care issues?” King said.
Calabria hopes to raise awareness of the program by meeting with landlords and developers in the coming months, and developing a system that recognizes participating landlords.
“We ought to be sending them a certificate, recognizing them in county commission meetings, something,” he said. “We’re working on it.”
In the meantime, the county’s waiting list may grow on the testimony from happy tenants such as White, who often tries to encourage homeless vets in downtown Raleigh.
“I can say honestly, every day I go downtown, I see homeless veterans and try to tell them about the agencies like this that are there to help,” he said. “I tell them, ‘If you let the situation dictate you, it’s going to overcome you and it’s going to destroy you.’ ”
Find out more
Landlords interested in participating in Wake County’s Housing Voucher Program should contact program manager David Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-212-8383.