By John Ramos

OAKLAND (KPIX) — The City of Oakland has announced an incentive program to attract property owners to participate in a federally funded effort to house the homeless. But even though the money is there, it still may be a tough sell.

Oakland has 515 federal vouchers to help pay for housing homeless people in the private rental market and the city is offering landlords a $1,000 bonus for each new contract signed.

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“Our goal together is to get 200 new landlords that have never taken a Housing Choice voucher in the past to actually sign up and become part of this partnership,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf.

The program will also reimburse property owners $2,250 for repairs necessary to meet government housing standards and it will pay participating landlords up to two months’ rent to find a new tenant if there is a vacancy.

The Housing Authority said the vouchers will be used to house former residents of “Project Room Key” hotels, foster youth aging out of the system, and those at risk of homelessness because of gender-based violence. And while there may be fears about renting to the homeless, landlord Clarice Johnson said the Housing Authority did a pretty good job vetting potential tenants for her.

“We had an opportunity to interview them before they had come to the apartment,” she said. “Plus, Housing has already had some contact with those same persons, so they go through several different interviews before they actually come to us.”

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Housing Authority Director of Leased Housing Michelle Hasan said they are working hard to take make the regulatory environment as easy as possible.

“We will do what we can to help families get in units and within the bounds of the program and the fair market rents,” Hasan said.

But those last words–“fair market rents”–are where the major problem lies. The program will only pay for the average of rents charged in a one-mile radius, currently, about $1,900. But housing advocate James Vann says there is a belief that the East Bay is poised to see rapid increases in rent.

“So, there’s a reluctance to get tied into a Housing Authority contract that would limit their ability to raise rents for a number of years,” he said.

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Vann says that’s why the city has had difficulty finding takers for their vouchers and why, even though there is money to be spent, it probably won’t be enough to compete in the red-hot housing market of the Bay Area.