By Faron Gogo
The day of a Housing Locator typically starts out the same – a 5 minute team meeting then scanning online rental listings on Kijiji, Padmapper, and Craigslist. Their hope is to find landlords who would be interested in renting their units to a participant of the City of Ottawa’s Housing First program.
The Landlord Partnership Program (LPP) is an initiative led by The Salvation Army, in partnership with the City of Ottawa. The LPP helps connect people in need of housing with private market units, in collaboration with agencies providing Housing Based Case Management [HBCM] supports. In Ottawa, the program is housing the city’s most vulnerable and employs two Housing Locators.
Housing Locators are the first point of contact between landlords and the Housing First program. Their goal is to meet with landlords and property managers throughout Ottawa to acquire units for the program, allowing HBCMs to focus their time on what they do best: tenant supports.
The discussion with landlords is often similar – in exchange for renting to a Housing First tenant, the LPP will offer you:
- Assistance in filling vacancies
- Rent direct payments from the tenant’s financial source
- HBCM supports to program participants to help ensure successful tenancies for a minimum of 1 year
- Access to a 24/7 Landlord Support Line should extra support be needed
However, even with the program’s various benefits, Housing Locator’s still face an uphill battle finding landlords to rent to their tenants. “Many landlords do not want to rent to individuals who have experienced homelessness for multiple reasons. Either they have housed a tenant on social assistance in the past and had a negative experience or they have a stigma regarding the homeless population. Some landlords will say they want to work with us, but do not want someone who has a criminal record or is actively using substances which rules out many of our high needs clients. The program strives to be Housing First and house clients where they’re at.
The Housing First Philosophy believes that the barriers that keep people on the streets or in emergency shelters, such as a lack of employment skills, addiction issues, and poor mental and physical health can be best addressed once a person has stable housing.
“We understand that landlords want to protect their investments and their other tenants. This is why we work so hard discussing our program’s options with landlords and working with our 7 partner agencies to try and find the best fit possible,” explains Luisa Cardenas, one of the program’s Housing Locators. “The goal is to provide units where clients can have long-term, successful tenancies and not return to homelessness”.
While the program boasts a lot of success in the number of individuals that have been housed, and who remain in housing, the Housing Locators want landlords to know that they’re not left alone should something go wrong. Sometimes a unit might not be a good fit for one of the tenants, and evictions do happen. When they do, the housing locator helps to come to an agreement that works for everyone. This may be having the tenant agree to end a tenancy early and be re-housed, or it could involve supporting the landlord in issuing an N5. Either way, landlords will have have a team behind them should they need support, which other tenants just cannot offer.
How the Process Works…
Each tenant participating in the Housing First Program and housed through The Landlord Partnership Program is eligible to receive a $250.00 housing allowance to supplement their income to ensure rent is affordable. This housing allowance is paid directly to the landlord with the remainder of the rent paid direct from the tenant’s income source which can be Ontario Works (OW), Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), Old Age Security (OAS) or Canada Pension Plan (CPP). Payment for last month’s rent is available through the City of Ottawa Community and Social Support Centres.
- Increased support for landlords and tenants: HBCM staff visit tenants weekly to provide supports and ensure units are well kept while Housing Locators offer additional support to landlords during the housing process.
- Rent direct payments
- Application screening tool: All tenants are assessed by HBCM agencies to determine the level of support needed for long term housing retention and success.
- Landlord engagement: Many landlords that have housed Housing First participants through the LPP continue to offer vacant units for additional tenants, demonstrating strong collaboration.
- Application barriers: Many tenants are denied housing due to previous criminal activity, lack of landlord references, credit history or from landlords having a more desirable candidate.
- Private market competition: It can take some time to find an appropriate match for a unit and set up a viewing, which results in many units being rented to the private market. The LPP does not ask landlords to put units on hold.
- Re-Housing process: Should a tenancy not be successful, it can be a challenge to find suitable housing prior to an eviction. It also strains landlord relationships and can leave landlords hesitant to rent with the program again.
- Stigma: Many landlords refuse to rent to individuals on social assistance or to those that have experienced homelessness.
- Ontario Works and Affordability: While the $250.00 Housing Allowance is an increase in what program participants can afford, there are challenges finding affordable units for individuals on Ontario Works, as the income is lower than for those on ODSP.