Pauli Halstead: Housing First means partnering with landlords
Providing permanent housing for homeless individuals should be a win for everyone, but is it a win for landlords?
How can Nevada County agencies partner with landlords to ensure successful outcomes when housing the chronically homeless?
The goal of Housing First should be to provide housing to homeless persons who are motivated to improve their lives and remain stable.
Nevada County has implemented the HUD Housing First model as a “best practice” solution to ending homelessness. Agencies actively seek out housing by establishing relationships with landlords and property managers. By law, HUD’s permanent supportive housing programs are designed to serve homeless persons who are disabled, including those who are currently seriously mentally ill and/or who have chronic problems with alcohol or drugs. The law further allows for tenant-based and project-based assistance. A common tie to all these housing options is the principle that HUD’s homeless housing programs are intended to help persons by providing support services to address their special needs in order to become more independent.
For eligibility in the Housing First program, individuals are able to gain access to housing with no questions asked. They are not required to be sober or to comply with support services. Based on a vulnerability score, homeless clients are placed on the By-Name list. People with the highest risk score are housed first. The purpose of housing the high-risk homeless population is to reduce costs to society. National cost estimates of a chronically homeless person range from $35,000-45,000 per year. Nevada County has no specific data on what homelessness is costing.
Currently there are 800 people on the By-Name list. Unfortunately, Nevada County does not have enough units nor has it met Housing Element goals for low-income housing. Also, the County does not have any data on the rate of failures for those who continue their alcohol and drug fueled lifestyle and wind up homeless again.
As it stands now, landlords with good intentions have been saddled with the ensuing property damage, eviction costs, and time spent trying to manage a deteriorating rental situation due to a lack of sufficient support services. Housing First will not be successful without guaranteed support services.
One remedy would be to create a standard Master Lease in which the placing agency assumes financial liability, and guarantees support services for the duration of the tenancy. Housing a homeless individual should be a partnership between the agency, the landlord, and the tenant/client. There’s no reason the landlord should assume the risk when providing housing for the homeless. In the lease, the client/tenant would agree to accept support services, and possibly a volunteer, who would assist with issues such as understanding the lease, paying rent on time, housekeeping skills, and appropriate tenant behavior. All necessary terms for a successful outcome would be included in the master lease based on the special needs of the tenant/client.
While a criminal record, or history of evictions, is not a HUD criteria for preventing someone from securing housing; the landlord should still do their due diligence in vetting someone. They can access the Superior Court website to check on criminal or eviction history. These are red flags when renting to anyone. Also, of concern is renting to anyone who is so disabled they would do better in assisted living. Landlords cannot assume the role of caregiver.
It’s advisable that leases contain a provision prohibiting the possession or use of illegal drugs on or near the property. Criminal activity by the tenant, or anyone associated with the tenant, which would threaten the health, safety, or peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other tenants, would be a lease violation.
While the realities of tenant/clients abusing substances exist, and sobriety is not mandatory with Housing First, their ongoing substance use will affect others. Even if they do not sell illegal substances themselves, their use ensures that they are still associating with others who engage in illegal activities and substance abuse. Substance abuse naturally brings about changes in behavior that will undermine recovery and stability as well as adversely affect the capacity to make good decisions regarding their tenancy. Recovery always demands cutting ties with drug-using associates.
The placing agency, using Housing First criteria, despite lowering the barriers to housing high-risk individuals, has a responsibility to the landlord and the community, to provide support services as long as necessary. This will minimize recidivism and the high cost of covering property damage and evictions due to housing failures. Master leasing, guaranteeing support services, and working in partnership with landlords will ensure successful outcomes in the Housing First program.
Pauli Halstead lives in Nevada City.
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