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Only Half of All Voucher Recipients Find New Homes : Earthquake: 12,000 receive the emergency aid. Officials cite transportation and reluctant landlords as two problems.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One month after the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development started its emergency housing voucher program for low-income Los Angeles earthquake victims, only half of the 12,000 voucher recipients have found new homes, according to a city official.

Marshall Kandell, spokesman for the Los Angeles Housing Authority, said that as of Wednesday, the authority had issued 18-month rental assistance vouchers to 12,183 families and individuals.

So far, 3,390 applicants have tentatively found housing, but are waiting for approval from the housing authority to move in. Another 2,706 already have signed contracts with landlords. That leaves 6,087 with vouchers but not permanent shelter.

Lawyers with a San Fernando Valley legal group said the numbers reflect the difficulties that poor people are having in finding housing.

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“It’s a pretty major problem at this point,” said Ruth Zacarias, a housing attorney with San Fernando Valley Legal Services in Pacoima. “People are still out there homeless.”

Responded Kandell: “I can’t say they’re wrong. We’re addressing the problem as we can.”

The reasons for the low success rate of house-hunters are multifold, Kandell and housing lawyers said. Kandell named transportation problems as the main culprit, along with a quake-related housing shortage in certain areas, and the reluctance of landlords to take in tenants with vouchers. He also speculated that some people may not be actively looking.

Zacarias and fellow Legal Services lawyer Mona Tawatao said they believe the principal explanation is a housing shortage, followed by discrimination against large families, a reluctance to rent to subsidized tenants and HUD restrictions on the types of apartments--based on their rent--that people can secure. For example, HUD will not subsidize rent for a one-bedroom unit if it exceeds $683 per month. There is an $864-per-month ceiling for two-bedroom units, $1,167 for three-bedroom units and $1,391 for four-bedroom units.

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“A lot of landlords are wary of renting to people with these certificates, because they don’t know how the program works,” Zacarias said. “Some of them are not even sure how they’re going to be paid.”

The Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles has said there is no housing shortage despite quake damage to 23,000 apartment units, saying there are 60,000 empty units in the Los Angeles area.

Last week, the housing authority addressed the mobility problem that has hampered some in their housing search by kicking off a $1.5-million program in which teams of workers drive house-hunters to homes and apartments owned by landlords willing to participate in the housing-assistance program. The workers are trained to answer questions about the program, and interpreters will be provided, Kandell said.

HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros has been meeting with Los Angeles property owners associations to urge members to accept tenants who have vouchers. Cisneros’ department has set aside $200 million for the vouchers, which assure a landlord rent for 18 months. The tenants give 30% of their monthly income to the landlord and HUD pays the rest of the rent, which can come to 90% or more of the monthly payment.

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The voucher program, unprecedented in scope, was announced Jan. 20, just three days after the Northridge earthquake.

Within two weeks, the housing authority--which has run the HUD-funded project--had issued 8,000 vouchers, Kandell said. That means that many of the voucher recipients have been unsuccessfully house-hunting for three weeks.


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