Landlord Liaison Project Fills Housing, Homeless Assistance Gaps

Learn how The Landlord Liaison Project (LLP) connects landlords with people experiencing homelessness to keep affordable and private housing markets healthy.

King County, Washington—with its relatively mild climate and extensive social support network—has long had a fairly high number of people experiencing homelessness. But the county, a vast area that includes Seattle, also has a significant number of rental units. In 2009, many of those were empty. Spurred by the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Ten-Year Plan and funded by the City of Seattle, United Way of King County, and the King County Department of Community and Human Services, the Landlord Liaison Project (LLP) arose out of a desire to match people experiencing homelessness with some of that housing.

The LLP Approach

“The idea behind it was, we can’t build our way out of homelessness, but there are lots of private market rental units in the community,” says Mona Tschurwald, Director of Homeless Initiatives at YWCA Seattle-King County-Snohomish County, which oversees the LLP. Through partnerships with private market landlords—who range from landlords who can offer one unit in a house to corporations that own many apartment buildings—LLP reaches out to agencies that work with people experiencing homelessness who have various barriers to finding housing, including bad credit or a criminal background.

LLP is not a subsidy program, so no one is placed in low-income housing. Rather, says Tschurwald, the focus is on affordable and private-market housing and the expansion of the housing market pool. With few exceptions, those who are renting are expected to pay private market rates, whether through Section 8 funding, Shelter Plus Care, or employee wages.

“Our job is to get people in the door,” Tschurwald says. LLP staff assess every unit to be sure it is safe and clean. The organization’s ultimate goal is that each individual be housed for one year at a minimum; LLP enjoys a success rate in the 90th percentile. The organization was charged with housing 400 households—ranging in size from a single person to a family of 12—in 2014, but it exceeded that significantly, surpassing 450 before Thanksgiving.

LLP only accepts clients who work with its partnering area social service agencies; the agencies are expected to refer only those clients they believe are fully ready to be renters. The agencies are also responsible for candidly presenting all the barriers that each person faces. LLP turns away only convicted sex offenders or those who have been convicted of producing methamphetamine, but it makes clear to landlords that it does not do background checks on potential renters, says Tschurwald. By the same token, there is no obligation on the part of a landlord to accept someone who has been referred by LLP.

Partnering With Landlords

When the program first got underway, much of its appeal to landlords was the fact that they would be earning rental income on what might otherwise have been empty units, but several incentives make it even more enticing. The organization provides risk reduction funds for up to two years, if a tenant remains in housing that long. For example, if there is damage to a unit that is not covered by the security deposit, if the landlord has to evict a tenant and thus incurs legal costs, or if a renter leaves before the lease has expired, LLP can cover a month or two of rent. In addition, case managers make monthly visits to the units, and there is a 24-hour phone number for landlords in the event of a problem that is not appropriate for 911 or a mental health hotline. Tschurwald says it adds a sense of security, but calls to it are rare.

LLP partners with some 200 landlords, but, with no empty units in the area as of late 2014, coupled with rising rental rates, it is becoming more challenging to find landlords who are welcoming to individuals with barriers. In addition, says Tschurwald, for the first time, LLP has run out of client assistance funds—those that went toward deposit money, for instance. They do still have some funds available specifically for veterans experiencing homelessness, who are a priority.

Connecting Client to Client

To supplement the rental activity, LLP offers ongoing educational opportunities to its landlords, tenant-clients, and social service agencies on a variety of topics. Clients may take part in workshops on program expectations, what it means to be a good tenant, how to read a lease, and budgeting. Landlords and agencies can choose to learn about such topics as domestic violence laws related to housing or landlord-tenant laws. LLP also makes a point of offering joint programs to agencies and landlords so they can “intermingle,” says Tschurwald.

To date, officials in 21 municipalities nationwide have contacted Tschurwald to get information on setting up similar programs, and many have done so with varying degrees of success. None are as extensive as LLP’s, largely because the program can be difficult to finance. Tschurwald tries to frame all of that in the most positive light. “It’s really a gift, I always say, to the community,” she concludes.

This article was originally published to highlight the January 2015 theme of Housing. Access more behavioral health and homelessness resources.

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Sarah Zobel
Last Updated: 04/19/2016