Smoky Mountain News, Written by Admin.
During a time when everyone is worried about their health and the health of their loves ones, it can be easy to forget about our most vulnerable populations. One agency is trying to recruit a new ally in the fight against COVID-19 — landlords.
Temporary FEMA funding for emergency shelters in conjunction with federal and state eviction moratoriums have helped limit unsheltered homelessness in Western North Carolina, but now those relief measures are coming to an end. This has service providers worried about a spike in homelessness as well as the health risk associated with an unsheltered population. People without housing often have no way to follow CDC social distancing and hygiene guidelines, increasing their risk for virus exposure and spread.
Local homeless organization, HERE in Jackson County, is hoping to proactively “flatten the curve” on this surge in homelessness by recruiting landlords and ramping up rehousing efforts. HERE, which stands for “housing, equity, resources and education,” provides services to Jackson County’s homeless population, but also operates multi-county housing stabilization programs.
“We operate a HUD funded Rapid Rehousing Program for the eight western counties which provides move in costs for those experiencing literal homelessness,” said HERE’s Housing Case Manager, Destri Leger. “Thanks to a grant from the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation, we also have housing stabilization assistance available to the six western counties for those who don’t meet HUD programming’s strict requirements.”
HERE’s programs including case management as well as financial assistance.
“Homelessness looks different for everyone. Some folks just hit hard times and need help to get back on track. Others need more support to make sure their success is long term,” said Prevention & Data Specialist, Denise Bean, whose focus is preventing those with housing from entering the homeless system. However, tenants aren’t the only ones receiving support. “We also make sure that landlords are happy with the placement. It keeps our clients housed and encourages more landlords to work with us and our people,” said Bean.
Landlord services include mediation on issues such as nonpayment, lease violations, noise complaints, sanitary concerns, and disputes with neighbors. HERE also has mitigation options for those concerned about renting to prospective high risk tenants including those with poor credit, criminal backgrounds, or limited income. The agency also provides what is a called a “controlled exit” for placements deemed unsustainable. HERE is then often able to fill the vacated unit from their housing wait-pool to avoid a loss of income for the landlord.
Landlords that may be hesitant to show rental units while COVID-19 concerns still prevalent should know that HERE has several measures to help control the risks associated with the virus. They offer video and/or social distancing touring and inspection options. They also will provide personal protective equipment by request to all involved parties.
HERE proposes that even landlords without vacant units have a role in this fight. Landlords can be part of the solution by being flexible with payment options for those with rental arrears as a result of COVID-19. Landlords can also consider continuing to suspend strict occupancy and visitor guidelines so that those experiencing homelessness can stay with friends or family while they work on obtaining housing.
HERE reports their housing stabilization programming for the year has an overall success rate of 75%, meaning that 75% of those placed in housing were able to maintain their housing after HERE’s assistance ended. “However, these tools only work when we have landlords willing to partner and work with us,” said Leger.
Landlords choosing to work with this vulnerable population can be an untapped resource in the fight against COVID-19 as well as continued partner in the fight against homelessness. To learn more about HERE’s programming and how to become a partnering landlord, contact HERE at 828.477.4946 or go to www.hereinjacksoncounty.org.