Everyone likes to get a little more, a little “something for nothing.” Maybe it’s points toward a free sandwich or coffee; the promise that for every book you buy, the store will plant a tree in New Jersey; pizza and beer for helping a friend move; or stock options and a company game room. It’s that extra something that sweetens the pot. It feels like winning.
The idea’s been around for ages, but in marketing, it took a leap during Super Bowl IX in 1975, when former baseball catcher Joe Garagiola, in an ad, told viewers: “Buy a car, get a check.” That rebate program from Chrysler promised buyers a check from the company for buying a Dodge or Plymouth. The idea of free cash struck a nerve, and soon, every automaker was doing the same, or allowing buyers to take the rebate amount off the purchase price. Somehow, it seems that simply dropping the price — not an unusual move in car-buying negotiations — wouldn’t have captured the imagination of consumers in the same way: Something for nothing.
And actual money at that. It’s been almost 47 years since that halftime ad appeared, and the lure of cash payments as an incentive remains strong. At least, that’s what Keene Housing is hoping.
Keene Housing is offering incentives — $500 or $1,000 — to landlords to take on tenants involved in the agency’s Housing Choice Voucher program. That program, funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and formerly known as Section 8 housing, is meant to bridge the rent gap for very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled.
The program is administered locally by Keene Housing, but the agency’s involvement is minimal compared to its own housing. Basically, the agency vets the applicants based on income and other requirements, and a voucher amount is set based on income. The applicants then go out and find their own apartments, armed with the vouchers to buttress what they can afford to pay.
Except, landlords aren’t bound to accept the vouchers or the prospective tenants wielding them. And in Keene, many don’t.
In 2017, Craig Henderson, director of housing stabilization for Southwestern Community Services, noted the vouchers don’t always offer enough to guarantee applicants can afford apartments at Keene-area prices. He said because of the low vacancy rates, landlords here don’t have to take a chance that a voucher-holder can reliably make their share of the rent, and utilities and other monthly costs.
Mindy Cambiar, executive director of the Hundred Nights shelter, said her clients who obtain vouchers often can’t even get a landlord to return their calls.
Those views still seem to prevail, according to what Keene Housing Executive Director Josh Meehan told N.H. Public Radio. He said he has about 20 people with vouchers waiting for the chance to use them. “It’s not due to anything other than folks not being able to find a place to live with their voucher,” he told NHPR.
So, since August, Keene Housing has been employing the “Buy a car, get a check” strategy — or in this case, “Take a voucher, get a check.”
Landlords who rent to voucher-holders get a check from Keene Housing for either $1,000 — if it’s the first time they’ve rented to someone using vouchers — or $500 for repeat customers.
Meehan told NHPR last month that four landlords had signed up, with another interested. That’s a promising start, and it’s good to see housing officials thinking outside the box to get people in need into homes. But with 20 people still waiting at that point, and colder weather on the horizon, it appears there’s still a ways to go.
Maybe he could throw in a free coffee.