The specifics of someone’s past are not details Community Human Services (CHS) staff use to determine a person’s worth in receiving our help accessing affordable and stable housing. We believe in second chances, and so despite past convictions or arrests, addiction or previous evictions, our answer to someone entering our Housing Assistance Programs (HAP) is “How can we meet you where you’re at?” Everyone deserves a place to call home—a private place where they can rehabilitate, be completely themselves, and feel safe to rebuild their lives. If someone is seeking housing, we help them find a place that will best match their needs and limitations. We want our clients to succeed. That’s just the belief our staff and services operate under.
The success rates of HAP and our ability to quickly house clients is because of the relationships we have built with local, private landlords. Our 200 landlord partnerships are key to carrying out our mission of providing stable housing and treating clients with respect. Building relationships with landlords not only benefits CHS and our clients, it benefits those landlords as well. They know that when we call them for available units that we are sending clients that meet their bottom lines. “It’s a two way street,” CHS Housing Locator II Lynetta Lowman explains. “You rent to us, and when you need units filled later down the road, we come to you with tenants.”
So how does one become a CHS Landlord Partner? CHS holds annual open houses for current and potential landlord partners. We provide lunch while our current landlord partners provide feedback and input. It’s a great way for potential landlords to hear directly from our partners and understand what those partnerships involve. As with all of our programs, CHS welcomes feedback from those we work with and serve. It’s the only way we can ensure we stay relevant to current issues and concerns, and to learn what changes need made in order to improve our services. These open houses also provide an opportunity for us to let landlords know of any new housing programs or changes to current housing programs. Again, transparency. Our next welcome house is scheduled for this spring.
In a city that is short 17,000 affordable housing units, finding a place to stably live is an increasingly difficult challenge. Between the December 10—23 application period of last year, the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh accepted nearly 10,000 pre-applicants for Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8). It’s an issue that’s becoming harder and harder to satisfy. Because of the gentrification affecting numerous areas within the city limits, low-income individuals and families are getting pushed out of their once affordable neighborhoods, creating issues surrounding transportation, increased stigma, and overall loss. For those of us reading this who have ties to our neighborhood—whether it’s the one you currently live in or grew up in—imagine how difficult it would be to suddenly find the place unrecognizable and unaffordable? It’s an emotional and economic disrupt, and it’s a growing situation CHS is having to integrate more into our housing programs.
This is where our Housing Locator (HL) team comes in. Established in 2017 in response to the increasing difficulty finding affordable housing within the Pittsburgh region, the team is responsible for watching market trends, recruiting new landlord partners, inspecting units to ensure Housing Quality Standards are met, and negotiating rent and lease terms. Not only does this help CHS provide safe and affordable housing options for clients based on their individual needs, it further establishes the relationship between the organization and landlords. When you’re homeless, time is not a luxury. In fact, it’s working against you. By forming these relationships, finding suitable housing becomes a process with a quick turnaround. On average, it takes clients in our Rapid Rehousing (RRH) programs 33 days from entering the program to signing a lease—18 days quicker than the average of all RRH programs in the county. “Our role as Housing Locators is to building lasting relationships with landlords and property managers that will respond to our constant demand for housing. It is important to support and recognize our landlord partners, for it is them who support our expedited process to house clients rapidly,” says Lynetta Lowman, CHS Housing Locater II.
Here’s what that process looks like:
First, the CHS HL member meets with the client to discuss their preferences and needs for housing. After their meeting, the HL member searches the internet and calls our network of landlord partners to set up a viewing of any available options that meet the client’s preferences. Typically this unit has already been inspected by the HL member, however, if this is needed again, the member visits the unit and ensures it will work with the client and still meets our standards. Then the HL member negotiates rent and lease terms with the landlord partner. After these negotiations are finalized, a lease is signed and a Community Support Specialist (CSS) begins working on goals with the client towards self-sufficiency, such as financial budgets, short and long term goals. Depending on the need, CSSs also connet clients with donated household items we may have available, along with canned goods to initially stock their pantry with.
CHS housing programs operate under harm reduction and housing first approaches, so in order for our clients to attain self-sufficiency in their new homes, honesty and transparency between all involved parties are key. Setting clients up for success is critical, which is why our CCSs and HLs maintain an open dialogue with landlord partners. This transparency comes in two parts. First, by having HLs find housing and landlords that match what our clients’ needs and supports, we are not only reducing the risk landlords might feel in taking on clients with specific backgrounds, but we are also increasing the likelihood that our clients will be stable tenants. Second, CSSs offer support based on a client’s individual level of care, ranging from their mental health and addictions to building new routines, as transitioning from a homeless situation to stable housing takes time and guidance. Due to past evictions and negative experiences with other housing systems, communication isn’t always the easiest for our clients to have with their landlords. But if issues do arise, landlords know that they can reach out to a CSS or HL as an additional resource. Random inspections are something CSSs and HLs will do upon request, and because of our mitigation funds, landlords are covered for damages and/or back rent up to $3k. It’s support for all parties. Because the fear in returning to homelessness is a constant for clients before these new routines are in place, they may be apprehensive to approach their landlords with issues during their first few months of housing. But by having a CSS and HL involved, our clients and landlords can be preventative instead of reactionary. It also ensures that we have done our job of empowering clients to access stable housing. As CHS Housing Locator, Roberta McDonald explains, “Even addressing some of the most challenging issues is rewarding in the fact that, once the goal is accomplished, there is a personal satisfaction that can’t be fully described. To place a homeless family or individual into a home is almost a spiritual feeling beyond words.”
We’d like to dedicate this article to a landlord we sadly lost in March. Miss Ida McCoy (Dausuel) epitomized the values CHS operates under. Throughout her five years of working with us as a Landlord Partner, Miss Ida housed 18 CHS clients. Despite their backgrounds and experiences, Miss Ida always met our clients where they were at, and through that cultivated for them an environment based on trust and mutual respect. Our staff will truly miss working with her, and we offer her family our condolences.
If you’re a landlord interested in becoming a Landlord Partner with CHS and receiving an invite to our next Landlord Partner Welcome House, please contact Lynetta Lowman at [email protected] to find out more our housing assistance programs. And to donate to CHS to help HAP purchase household supplies for our clients when they are first housed, please visit our secure donations page.