Archive for Tuesday, January 11, 2005

City may subsidize homeless housing

Fund would provide incentives for landlords to rent apartments

January 11, 2005


City officials soon will consider using taxpayer dollars to enlist the help of landlords in combating Lawrence's homeless problems.

At a meeting Wednesday afternoon, the city's Housing Trust Fund Board will consider a $30,000 request to create a program that would provide an incentive for landlords to accept homeless people as tenants.

"We're talking about serving people who have resurrected themselves," said Margene Swarts, community development manager for the city. "These are people who have turned themselves around, but they have a history, and a normal landlord doesn't want to take the chance on them. This would be an incentive for a landlord to go out on a limb."

The program essentially would guarantee landlords they would be paid for any damages done to their apartments and compensated for any lost rent they incurred if the tenant had to be evicted for failure to pay rent, said Bob Ebey, vice president of Landlords of Lawrence.

The program also would reduce the finances needed for a homeless person to obtain an apartment. Landlords who participate would waive the requirement for a security deposit and one month's worth of rent. The two deposits often total more than $1,000, which can be a barrier for people trying to get back on their feet.

Ebey, who also serves on the city's Practitioners Panel -- a board that discusses housing and homelessness issues -- said the program could be a large help to people trying to turn their lives around.

"The idea is to let them worry about getting a job and keeping a job instead of worrying about where they are going to spend the night," Ebey said. "This is probably the ideal time to try this, because almost every landlord you talk to right now has some empty units.

"Landlords want to help, but very few are going to take money out of their pockets to do it."

Ebey estimated the program could serve up to 15 people. The group is asking the Housing Trust Fund for a one-time batch of funding. Ebey said the group hadn't decided how it would meet future funding needs.

"It is a starting place," Swarts said. "I think this would be a pilot program that could lead to bigger things."

In November, city commissioners tentatively agreed to use the bulk of the Housing Trust Fund's $560,000 for a new land trust concept that would address affordable housing issues. But the commission left the door open for the trust to fund a handful of smaller projects as well.

In addition to the landlord proposal, the group will consider a $100,000 request from Habitat for Humanity and $50,000 for the purchase of a new homeless management information software system. The software would allow service providers to the homeless to more easily share information about the people they help.

The trust fund board also is expected to discuss the land trust idea. All decisions by the trust fund board will require approval by the City Commission.

The board will meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Neighborhood Resources Conference Room. The Neighborhood Resources Department is on the bottom floor of the Riverfront Plaza at Sixth and New Hampshire streets.

The city's Task Force on Homeless Services will have a communitywide meeting to discuss its proposed homeless services plan at 5 p.m. today at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H.The proposal has six broad strategies:¢ Continued and increased support for homeless service providers to establish options for a full-time, 24-hour shelter and rehabilitation services program.¢ Funding for a case management team of four social workers to work directly with homeless people.¢ Re-establishment of an inpatient mental health unit in the community.¢ An increase in the number of transitional and permanent housing units for people experiencing homelessness.¢ Better use of established public and private employment services to create job options for people who are homeless.¢ Establishment of a new entity to coordinate service efforts.

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