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Two years ago, the General Assembly passed a law outlawing source-of-income discrimination, making it illegal for landlords to refuse to rent to a tenant just because they’re going to be paying with a voucher.

But Susan Perry, who heads the City of Norfolk’s Department of Housing and Community Development, acknowledges that some moving out with vouchers have run into problems.

“Even though there are laws in place that prevent the housing discrimination is in reality, right, that's hard to prove, and private landlords still have discretion about who they're able to to rent to,” Perry said.

So Norfolk’s setting aside $200,000 to incentivize owners to rent to the voucher-holders coming out of Tidewater Gardens. 

Officials said landlords have complained that the bureaucratic nature of these federally-backed rental vouchers end up costing them money. 

Landlords have to register their apartment or house with the city’s housing authority and get into the system to receive payments. The units are subject to regular inspections per federal rules.

Perry said they pulled from other incentive programs across the country to assemble a wide range of potential payouts.

Incentives in Norfolk include:

  • Paying for upgrades and repairs to pass the federally-required inspections.
  • Covering the loss of money while an apartment sits empty waiting for one of those inspections.
  • Covering the difference between what a voucher will pay in a certain area and the advertised rent.
  • A signing bonus for landlords who register their units for the first time to rent to a Tidewater Gardens resident.
  • Insurance against any damages to the property from voucher-holding tenants.

“We're sort of throwing …  all that we can at this to really create a program that we think will be successful,” Perry said.

Right now, the incentives are specifically targeted at landlords who will take on folks moving out of Tidewater Gardens.

Perry said if the program works well, the city would consider expanding it.

Donna Mills, the chief housing officer for the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority, said just shy of 1,300 landlords are participating across Norfolk. Ninety-one of those have joined since last summer.