Allegheny County is offering cash to reinvigorate flagging interest from landlords to rent to people transitioning from shelters to permanent housing.
As the county and the City of Pittsburgh continue to contend with sheltering people who are displaced and homeless, they also struggle to place people in long-term housing.
The county gave one possible answer to that this week with an announcement that its Department of Human Services will provide a one-time payment of $2,000 to landlords willing to rent apartment units to people transitioning out of shelters. The move is meant to attract more landlords to two county programs that have recently had trouble finding willing landlords, according to department spokesperson Mark Bertolet.
The Rapid Rehousing and Supportive Housing programs already exist and are only available for eligible households that are in the county’s homeless system. The two programs include an ongoing rental subsidy and case management. Bertolet said that finding landlords willing to rent to people moving out of shelters has “become harder” and Monday’s announcement is meant to entice landlords to open their doors to eligible tenants.
The program also offers landlords who renew the lease for an additional year a $1,000 retention bonus. And once tenants are stabilized, the benefits of the county’s two programs will kick in with a case manager to help the tenants remain housed.
Landlords in the program will receive guaranteed rental payments in addition to the “$3,000 to offset costs associated with damages above the amount of the security deposit or for vacancy loss,” as the department described in a press release.
Department of Human Services Director Erin Dalton said in the release that a program like this is needed to help people move from temporary shelter to permanent housing. She said landlords are often wary of renting to people moving out of a shelter as it’s seen as a “financial risk.”
“We hope to remove this barrier and make this an easy choice for landlords needing to find new tenants,” she said.
The initiative comes amid a winter season that saw two Downtown-area shelters open and quickly hit maximum capacity. Second Avenue Commons opened on Nov. 22 and filled up after the city removed a tent encampment in Allegheny Center. And a county-funded shelter on Smithfield Street, which was not expected to open this winter, instead became a 24-hour shelter to help alleviate the need for more beds.
John Petrack, the executive vice president of the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, said that using cash to attract landlords will be an effective carrot.
The organization advocates for real estate consumers and lobbies legislators to protect private property rights.
Speaking after a meeting with members of the organization’s government affairs committee, Petrack said the initiative was well received.
“We only had one suggestion: It would probably help if they gave tenant recipients of these units a brief class that explains your responsibilities as a tenant to keep the place in good working order and make sure the place is maintained,” he said. “The biggest complaints for housing providers is that the unit is in good condition on day one but when they get it back after the lease, a lot of damage has been done to the property. The $3,000 security was well received.”
Kris Bergstrom, director of Neighborhood Legal Services Association, said the county’s move is “a great first step but it will only be successful with support services and it will only be successful in the long term if we can get more affordable housing built.”
Bergstrom’s organization provides legal aid to people who can’t afford to hire attorneys, including people facing eviction.
Bergstrom said a subsidized rental program will give people a chance to stabilize their lives by ending a cycle of displacement.
“There are a lot of barriers when you’re homeless,” she said. “You don’t have a rental record, so landlords will be wary to rent to you. People who are homeless tend to get misdemeanors, jaywalking and stuff so then landlords only see that and won’t rent to them.”
She said that another challenge for people with insecure housing is that they can often only afford rent available in neighborhoods that aren’t safe or have increased drug activity.
“So subsidizing can help get people out of neighborhoods that might expose them to things that will stop them from staying sober,” she said.
Bergstrom said this kind of effort indicates a continued change she has noticed in the way that governments and people view the needs of others.
“The pandemic changed our perspective on housing, and we now realize we have to provide more and when people are in bad situations, they need help with rent,” she said. There’s a general sense that “housing is a human right, and we need to keep them housed because it’s better for the community.”
Eric Jankiewicz is PublicSource’s economic development reporter, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ericjankiewicz.
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