Housing Location


National Alliance to End Homelessness

Solutions Brief | March 31, 2009

Files: PDF | 87 KB | 4 pages

March 2009

Housing location is a core function of a good prevention and re-housing program. Many programs have staff whose sole function is housing location. Other programs have staff who split time between housing location and case management. The pages below include tips on how to locate and then acquire affordable housing units for your homeless or at-risk clients.

Locating Housing
There are a number of types of housing units that may be available in a community, and it is important to consider all options when helping a client find affordable housing. Affordable housing units may be available in the following locations:

  • Housing Owned by Private Landlords. Private landlords rent out housing units and often have difficulty finding tenants to fill their units. Putting clients in a rental unit owned by a private landlord can be beneficial to the landlord by helping him avoid empty units and long, costly gaps in occupancy. Private landlords are also more likely to “take a chance” on the client of a prevention and re-housing program if they know they will have a point of contact at the organization to call if there are any problems. Housing owned by private landlords is often listed in real estate classified ads. It is also possible to learn of empty units through an evictions court or simple word of mouth.
  • Project-Based Section 8. Project-based housing choice voucher units are available in many communities. To find out if there are any available project-based Section 8 units, organizations should contact the local Housing Authority.
  • Public Housing. Another option for finding housing is to look at public housing, which makes rental housing available for low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled. Local Housing Authorities will have additional details on available units of public housing.
  • Housing within the Larger Community. Oftentimes, it can be difficult to locate available, affordable units within the city center. By expanding the housing search to cover areas that are beyond the most desirable or familiar ones, organizations may have more success in finding units. Neighborhoods outside of the city center often have higher vacancy rates than downtown areas. The real estate classified ads, word of mouth, and evictions court are all excellent ways to learn of affordable housing opportunities within the larger community.
  • Housing Managed by Property Management Companies. Organizations should also reach out to property management companies that operate multiple properties within your community. Building a strong relationship with one or more of those companies can be extremely helpful because they control a number of units that may be suitable to house your clients, rather than just a single unit. Examine the real estate classified section or rely on word of mouth to learn of these opportunities.
  • Units in New Developments. Brand new developments are often built with the requirement that they set aside a certain number of units as affordable housing. Housing Authorities generally conduct occasional assessments of these developments to determine if the landlords are complying with these requirements. Prevention and re-housing programs can help the landlords be in compliance with the law. Local Housing Authorities may have a list of landlords that are currently not in compliance with the set-aside requirements. Watching the real estate classified section and using word of mouth can also be helpful in finding available units in new developments.

Affording Housing
Once an organization knows where to look for housing units, it can still be difficult to actually rent a unit for the client at an affordable price. When Section 8 housing choice vouchers are available, they can be a wonderful way to get your client into housing. However, there are also a number of drawbacks to using Section 8 housing choice vouchers. Helping clients obtain Section 8 vouchers is complex and requires a great deal of staff time. There are also strict regulations governing who can receive vouchers, and it requires staff time to determine who meets those qualifications and to come up with back-up plans for those that do not qualify. Most importantly, available Section 8 vouchers can be difficult to find.

There are two principle ways to help families get into affordable housing without using vouchers. Programs can work with landlords to negotiate a lower rent for their clients, or they can provide a short-term rent subsidy.

Working with Landlords
One way to help clients afford the rent on a unit of housing is to negotiate a lower monthly rent with the landlord. The following strategies have been proven to be effective at getting landlords to agree to lower rent fees:

  • Pay up front. By offering the landlord several months’ worth of rent or a larger upfront deposit, landlords are more likely to agree to a lower monthly rent.
  • Be quick. Many landlords have difficulty filling units and worry about turnover. They can often be persuaded to lower the rent if they know that a prevention or re-housing program can quickly fill the unit and that someone will begin paying rent soon.
  • Help maintain or improve their property. Offering to help the landlord with building maintenance, painting, and other property improvements makes landlords more likely to be flexible with rental fees.
  • Offer assurance. Telling the landlord that the organization will cover any necessary eviction fees if the client breaks the rental contract is reassuring. Knowing that they have someone to turn to in case something goes wrong will go a long way toward soothing landlords’ worries.
  • Sign the lease. If a local organization signs the lease, the landlord may run a credit and background check on the organization. The organization’s record in these areas will likely be an advantage for clients, and it may make it easier to negotiate a lower rental rate for the clients.
  • Appeal to their hearts. Find landlords who want to help families in need and who are supportive of the goal of finding them a place to live. Some landlords may place more value on helping than on the money.

Even in the toughest housing markets, housing search specialists, or housing locators, who enjoy a challenge can find creative ways to meet landlords’ needs. It is also important for them to be honest about what is within their control and what is not. Promising things that cannot be delivered will only hurt the negotiations and relationship with the landlord. Similarly, it is important to follow through on those promises that are made and to keep the landlord informed of any changes that may occur. Perhaps one of the most valuable assets for a housing search specialist to possess is experience with conflict resolution. They should be willing to take initiative to set goals and then find ways to achieve them, and they should also possess a personal motivation to find a way to get clients into affordable housing. Housing search specialists should know their community and its constituents: Who are the landlords and who are the people that know landlords? Housing locators should never miss an opportunity to establish relationships with community members and potential landlords. The more willing they are to think outside the box and not give up if there are setbacks, the more likely it is that they will be able to negotiate an affordable rent for their clients. For more information on important skills and tasks for a housing locator, see Sample Housing Locator Job Description.

Providing Short-Term or Medium-Term Rent Assistance
Another way to assist clients with getting into affordable housing is to provide financial aid in the form of short-term rental assistance. These efforts can go hand in hand with strategies to improve the tenant’s ability to pay rent on a long-term basis, such as through employment, the acquisition of vouchers, and the establishment of eligibility for benefits such as social security or a veterans’ pension. However, many families only need temporary-term assistance to help them get over a financial crisis and get back on their feet. This assistance can take the form of payments for several months’ worth of rent or utility costs. It can also be used to help mitigate the high initial costs of transitioning into a new unit, such as first and last month’s rent, security deposit, and other expenses related to move-in. Many existing rent assistance programs are flexible and do not place too many restrictions on how the funds are used. Families have varying needs, and it is helpful to be able to match the funds’ use to the family’s needs.

Additional Resources