Engaging landlords to make a difference in homelessness

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Landlord Liaison Program staff thank those who make a difference with a Community Pillar Award, here being received by Shonna Randle of Rainier Rentals (holding frame). From left to right are: Tony Lewis, Landlord Liaison Program; Debra Grant, Clara Le and Terra Island, Metropolitan Development Council; Kiesha Triplett, Landlord Liaison Program; Michael Yoder, Associated Ministries; Alexis Eykel, Landlord Liaison Program; Bruce Dammeier, Pierce County Executive; Jeff Rodgers and Anne Marie Edmunds, Pierce County Human Services.

A new partnership between Pierce County and Associated Ministries has resulted in a novel program for helping house those experiencing homelessness countywide. Called the Landlord Liaison Program (LLP), it strives to successfully house homeless individuals and families who cannot otherwise access housing due to rental barriers (such as past evictions, bad credit, or low income), with the ultimate goal to provide safe and affordable housing in every part of Pierce County.

Under the leadership of Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, last year the Pierce County Council established a county landlord mitigation fund and the county Human Services Department wrapped a new program around the administration of that fund, the Landlord Liaison Program (LLP), which works with property owners/managers and participating service agencies.The program is an incentive through which private market landlords have access to funds and tools to rent to those with less than perfect rental histories – the hope is to create a way to get landlords to be more willing than they have been in the past to rent to those that they might normally shy away from.

Associated Ministries has been awarded the contract to run the program for Pierce County. “It fits with what we do because our organization has a variety of public and private funded housing programs so this is a natural fit with our work,” said Associated Ministries Executive Director Michael Yoder. “There is only one solution to homelessness: to get someone into a permanent home, and this is a new effort to do that.”

LLP is not a brand new concept, but a newly energized effort in Pierce County to take the best practices of how similar programs have worked well in other communities and try to foster something like it in Pierce County.

“There are some outstanding examples of communities that have really embraced and advanced this idea of working directly with private market landlords to help them with incentives and mitigations so that they can more easily step into the system and do their part in the homelessness continuum,” Yoder said. “We can’t just build public housing to build out way out of our homelessness crisis. We have to have private market forces as the main solution in the short term.”

 

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

 

LLP is under the quite capable hands of program manager Alexis Eykel. Eykel brings with her more than 10 years experience developing relationships with landlords within the homeless system in King County and she is also a licensed real estate agent, so she has an inside knowledge of how landlords operate and what their concerns are.

“What you’ve got in Alexis is a very unique individual who is key to making this work,” Yoder said. “She understands the homeless system and people experiencing homelessness. And as a trained real estate agent working in that field and being a landlord herself, there probably isn’t another human in this county who is so qualified. This is what is needed – to think differently about a solution that spans two worlds and brings them together. This can happen when you have someone who understands both worlds and that’s one of the reasons why this program is making some progress now – we have innovative people that have innovative background experience.”

As Eykel stated it, LLP is there to represent the landlord so that they have somebody on their side. Eykel said that Associated Ministries is a pioneer in encouraging shelters and other housing programs to rethink their rules for housing, which often included “no felonies,” “no prior evictions,” “no drug use,” etc. “You had to be the ‘perfect’ homeless person that maybe just lost their job,” she said. “We’re allowed to be innovative here and do what needs to be done to help everyone.”

Eykel explained that program staff works directly with landlords and provide protections to them if they’re renting to tenants with high barriers and whom the landlord is willing to take a risk on. “Historically, landlords haven’t had someone to make sure that they’re heard and that their property is being taken care of. We are here to protect their assets with our risk mitigation funding. Landlords can call us 24/7 through a number that rings straight to my cellphone if they have a concern or issue with a tenant.”

“The landlords we work with, and most landlords, don’t want to evict,” said LLP property partner specialist Kiesha Triplett. “They don’t want to see people homeless. Yet landlords are human and their rental property may be their investment for retirement or something that they want to hold for their children one day, so it’s really important for them to guard that.”

LLP offers two different types of mitigation funds to help landlords, also called “property partners,” when they sign on with the program – a state fund and a county fund.  “We want to be that catch-all, so if landlords list their units through us, we can protect them with risk mitigation funds and make sure they are taken care of. That’s what we want to be seen as in the community,” Eykel said.

Triplett described LLP as “supplemental insurance,” like Aflac – extra protection that’s no cost to property partners.

“We have case managers who can come in and respond quickly to help diffuse things and help their tenants get their lives together,” she said. “Property partners give us a call with anything they need.”

The program offers much to renters as well. Case managers walk with tenants through the whole process – from the application process to the rental or lease agreement signing. In addition, Associated Ministries’ Renters Readiness program provides renters with basic tools to be good renters, helping them learn how to build healthy relationships and trust with landlords. In the event that there is a conflict to be settled, LLP steps in to mediate.

“We shine when stuff goes downhill with tenants,” Eykel explained. “With us being the middleman, people can take their frustrations out on us – clear their minds before they talk to the landlord. We diffuse situations first and then they can talk. We have the opportunity to be a sponge to soak up all the bad energy and then they can talk to each other with positive energy. It feels good, fostering those relationships.”

 

A WIN-WIN SITUATION

 

Yoder provided this scenario that encapsulates LLP benefits for all parties involved: Let’s say you own a little apartment building and you have a unit that’s open. How would you normally look for a tenant? You’d put an ad on Craigslist or something and let people apply. Then you can pay to have them screened, interview them and try to guess if they’d be a good tenant, look at their background and make a choice. If anything goes wrong – they trash the place and leave in the middle of the night – you’re on your own.

This is where LLP comes in:

By signing up with LLP, property partners make units available as one of the inventory through LLP and then the rapid re-housing agencies that are working to house homeless clients will know that they have a unit available and recommend a client to take the unit. It’s still a tenant/landlord relationship – tenants still have to apply and be approved by the property partner – but landlords agree to use LLP’s screening criteria.

By taking a client that comes through LLP, the mitigation funds and advocates come with that tenant; so your willingness to accept a person through LLP, rather than picking your own, can be a benefit to you because they come with extra protections. If that tenant isn’t the right fit, LLP will help that person move on without landlords having to go through the pain and bring in a new person – a graceful exit.

When all is said and done, it’s the right thing to do, says Yoder.

“It’s the right thing to give a second chance to somebody with an eviction, but it is inherently riskier to rent to somebody who’s had to be evicted in the past so we’re going to help you do the right thing. We have a program now to cover landlords to do the right thing and take a second look at people and let their compassion come forward toward being a solution to house those in need. There’s a new option for landlords now to be more expansive in their screening criteria and lower the barriers.”

 

COMMUNITY PILLAR AWARDS

 

Saying thank you to landlords and rental companies that have signed on with LLP is an important aspect of the program. “Landlords rarely ever get told thank you,” as Eykel stated it, so every quarter, LLP gifts a Community Pillar Award to those who have gone above and beyond to help end homelessness. Dammeier presents the awards to the recipients, as he has invested so much into making LLP a reality. To date, awards have been presented to Rental Housing Association of Washington, Rainier Rentals and Spinnaker Property Management.

To learn more about LLP, visit www.LandlordLiaisonProgram.com, call (253) 426-1518 or email info@landlordliaisonprogram.com.

 

Please note that LLP works directly with landlords and case managers of Pierce County-funded housing programs. If you are experiencing homelessness yourself and need housing please contact Coordinated Entry at (253) 682-3401. LLP does not work directly with clients or tenants in housing programs.

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