Some landlords rent to people experiencing homelessness because they consider it the right thing to do.
But there aren’t nearly enough of those landlords to meet the demand.
To attract more landlords, housing advocates here recently established a risk reduction fund on a trial basis. The fund can be tapped to reimburse a landlord who suffers a financial loss as a result of renting to a homeless tenant.
Specifically, if a formerly homeless tenant fails to pay the rent or damages the apartment, the fund compensates participating landlords for their loss, up to an amount equal to 2 1/2 months of the tenant's rent.
"We say rent to someone experiencing these (housing) barriers because it's good to do and the right thing for you to succeed as a landlord," said Nathan Roth, director of the housing resource center at Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership, which launched the pilot program last October.
Under the program, six formerly homeless households now have apartments, Roth said. Five of the households have a history of eviction and one has experienced chronic homelessness.
A landlord enters into an agreement with the tenant, the partnership and a homelessness case manager. The case manager acts as a troubleshooter who intervenes if a tenant problem crops up.
"We have a section in our contract that states if you (the landlord) don't receive rent on the first of the month, you must let us know," Roth said. "We'll be on the phone with the case manager to figure out what's going on and how to thwart that behavior. It's not the responsibility of the landlord to be a case manager."
To date, no participating landlord has sought reimbursement for damage or unpaid rent, Roth said.
Because participating landlords are assured reimbursement for property damage, they do not require the tenant to put down a security deposit, Roth said. Coming up with a security deposit is often a barrier to housing for homeless people. Being relieved of that expense helps tenants afford the apartment and other needs.
Patrick J. Roberts, a landlord with 32 apartments in Lancaster County, said he ordinarily requires prospective tenants with poor credit to pay the first and last months' rent and a security deposit. Many can't and look elsewhere.
But under the risk reduction program, he relaxed his requirements for a couple vetted by the Partnership and a case worker at San Juan Bautista Church.
Roberts said eviction proceedings take 45 days, a long stretch to go without rent. But under the risk reduction program, he won't lose money if the tenants don't work out.
"The risk is higher, I think, with doing it on your own," said Roberts, who called his formerly homeless tenants good people who "just haven't had any breaks in life."
Now the Spanish-speaking couple is getting assistance to help them stay housed.
Ray D'Agostino, the partnership's CEO, said finding creative ways to encourage landlords to provide more affordable housing is crucial as Lancaster County's tight rental market pushes rents higher and higher.
The risk reduction fund is only one way member agencies of the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness are working to encourage more landlords to house the homeless.
The coalition plans in July to launch a housing locator program. Its role will be to recruit landlords open to negotiating lower rents, said Jennifer Koppel, the coalition's executive director. The goal is to more quickly get the homeless off the streets or out of a shelter and into a permanent home.
Meanwhile, landlords who rent to homeless individuals who qualify for supportive housing are, like those in the risk reduction program, connected with a case worker who helps the tenant stay housed.
"If something is not going well, they have someone to help make sure the rent and utilities get paid," said Michael Foley, the coalition's chief operating officer. "We try to be supportive and help the landlord in whatever situations come up. When you're renting to people in general, you never know what the situation is. At least in this situation, you have that extra support."