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National Alliance to End Homelessness
Solutions Brief | March 31, 2009
Files: PDF | 87 KB | 4 pages
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:
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:
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.