Five Tips for Finding Qualified Applicants for Your Low-Income Units
Finding enough qualified applicants to occupy your low-income units can be a tough task. And you’ll want to attract enough qualified applicants to be able to choose those who will respect your rules and pay the rent on time.
If you don’t find enough qualified applicants for your tax credit site, the owner may not be able to claim all the credits it was allocated. Worse, your site might not even qualify for the tax credit program, in which case the owner won’t be entitled to claim any of its tax credits.
To make your job of finding qualified applicants easier, we’ve talked with some marketing experts to hear what they recommend. With their help, we’ve come up with the following tips you can follow to attract qualified, responsible applicants to your site.
Tip #1: Post Flyers and Postcards in Key Locations
For your site’s flyers and postcards to be effective, you should post them in places that are likely to reach eligible applicants, says Lisa Trosien, an Illinois marketing consultant. For example, check with your local Social Security Administration, unemployment agency, or welfare office to see whether they have a bulletin board where you can post your flyers or a table where you can place any brochures or postcards.
Also, consider posting flyers and postcards in churches, temples, senior centers, and social service organizations that work with low-income individuals. When approaching social service organizations for permission to post or distribute flyers and postcards, you should, of course, also ask them to refer eligible clients. You should also post flyers and postcards in places you think your prospects go, recommends marketing consultant Cathy Macaione. These include locales such as laundromats, pharmacies, hair salons, automotive stores, gas stations, convenience stores, package stores, check cashing facilities, doctors’ offices, and bowling alleys.
Tip #2: Include Color Photos in Flyers and Postcards
To make your flyers and postcards more effective, post them with color photos of the best room in the unit or the site’s exterior. This is a great visual attraction, says Macaione. And applicants know right away that the site is attractive and clean, as well as affordable.
Tip #3: Trade Advertising with Local Businesses
By trading advertising with local businesses, you can reach a lot of prospects at little or no cost. The idea is simple: You let local businesses advertise free in your site’s newsletter or on the bulletin board. In exchange, they put your marketing materials in their stores or on their products. They could, for example, keep a stack of your flyers on their checkout counter or tape your site’s ad to their pizza boxes.
Or you could get even more innovative. Marketing expert Jennifer Nevitt Casey got out one site’s message by having an ad printed on the prescription bags of a busy local pharmacy. The site’s ad was printed on a year’s worth of bags. She selected the pharmacy over other local merchants because “people pay closer attention to pharmacy bags than to other kinds of shopping bags. They tend to read the outside of prescription bags because dosage instructions and side effects are often stapled to them.” This is a particularly good way to reach seniors living on limited incomes, who may qualify for low-income units at your tax credit site.
Tip #4: Enlist Help of Local Employers
Seek help from big companies and businesses near your site that employ minimum-wage workers. These employers want to see their employees housed. So they’re usually willing to pass on information about affordable rentals to employees who need it, says Macaione, who regularly enlists the help of large employers to lease up affordable sites.
First, identify local employers who may be able to help. Macaione pinpoints big employers within a 15-mile radius of the site. Big retailers, manufacturers, large restaurants, and security guard companies are good targets because they employ a lot of low-wage workers. Macaione also reviews existing household files to see where households at the site work, and contacts these employers.
Once you’ve targeted the employers, make an appointment to visit each company’s human resources department. Tell them about the site and give them brochures and flyers. Or send them your materials with a letter requesting that they give the materials to any employees looking for affordable housing. You can ask them to post your flyers on a bulletin board or in the lunchroom.
Tip #5: Ask Prospects How They Learned About Site
Finally, it’s a good idea to ask your prospects how they learned about your tax credit site. This way, if you start using any of the above marketing ideas, you can find out whether they’re working and which ones are proving to be the most effective.
Jennifer Nevitt Casey: President, Bravo Strategic Marketing, Inc., PO Box 10628, Reno, NV 89510; www.bravostrategicmarketing.com.
Cathy Macaione: President, Cathy Macaione Consulting Services; PO Box 220085, Hollywood, FL 33022;www.cathymac.net.
Lisa Trosien: President, ApartmentExpert.com, 2355 Waterbury Cir., Aurora, IL 60504; www.apartmentexpert.com.
Complying with the Vacant Unit Rule
If you manage a mixed-income site, and a low-income unit becomes vacant, you must make “reasonable attempts” to re-rent that unit or rent the next available unit of comparable or smaller size to a qualified low-income household before renting units to market-rate households. If you do so, the tax credit law allows you to continue treating the unit as a qualified low-income unit.
According to the IRS, what constitutes a reasonable attempt to rent a vacant unit may differ from site to site, and depends on factors such as the size and location of the site, household turnover rates, and market conditions, as well as the different advertising methods that are accessible to owners and prospective residents.
The IRS offers this example: The owner of a 200-unit mixed-use housing site has 10 qualified low-income units that are vacant, none of which are over-income units. To advertise the tax credit units, the owner displays a banner and for-rent signs at the site’s entrance, places classified ads in two local newspapers, and contacts low-income prospects on the site’s waiting list, as well as on a local public housing authority list of Section 8 voucher holders. All of these practices are considered common methods of advertising unit vacancies in the area where the site is located. After the low-income units became vacant, a market-rate unit of comparable size to the low-income units becomes vacant, which the owner rents before renting any of the low-income units.
According to the IRS, the owner is in compliance with the vacant unit rule because it used reasonable methods of advertising a low-income unit vacancy before it rented the market-rate unit. Thus, the owner made reasonable attempts to rent the vacant low-income units.
To make sure sites don’t abuse this rule, the tax credit law requires you to keep good records to prove your reasonable attempts. The tax credit law doesn’t specify exactly what documents to keep, but there are many things you can do to help show that you’ve made reasonable attempts. For instance, it’s a good idea to keep a copy of all advertisements, flyers, and marketing agreements. Also, write a memo to the household’s file that identifies the date that the unit became vacant. Include a short description of how the unit became vacant—for instance, the lease term ended or you discovered that the household had abandoned the unit. And keep copies of your waiting list for your units during the time a unit is vacant. Keeping good documentation means that if months go by and you haven’t been able to re-rent your vacant unit, your state housing agency will see proof that you’ve been complying with the rule by making reasonable attempts.
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