Landlord Liaison Project
The Landlord Liaison Project of King County, Washington, creates incentives for landlords to relax screening criteria for people experiencing homelessness who have barriers to accessing permanent housing. Incentives include a rapid response to concerns, access to a 24-hour call-in line, and risk reduction funds to cover damages that exceed security deposits. Tenants are connected to ongoing case management from human service agencies for at least one year to ensure stability. Launched in 2009, the program is managed by the area YWCA and is funded through a consortium of county, city and philanthropic agencies.
Problem or Challenge:
People transitioning from homelessness often cannot access permanent housing because of poor credit, a prior eviction, previous involvement with the criminal justice system, or other issues, even if they have a housing voucher or sufficient income to pay rent.
The Landlord Liaison Project (LLP) provides a link between households experiencing homelessness and landlords with vacant rental units. It offers individuals and families help with accessing permanent housing, signing leases, and moving into apartments. At the same time, it offers private sector and nonprofit landlords some financial guarantees and a rapid response to their concerns.
LLP expands housing options for people facing homelessness by expanding access to existing private rental housing as an alternative to building new units, which requires funding for capital and operating costs. This is a key strategy of the county’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, which recognizes that the county does not have the capacity to build all of the housing needed to solve homelessness.
Developed by the county’s Committee to End Homelessness and initially tried out as a six-month pilot, the LLP acts as a private housing broker for homeless service agencies. It recruits and signs up landlords, locates available units for people referred by participating service agencies, and works to resolve any problems. If a problem arises, the landlord can either call the tenant’s case manager or the project’s 24-hour phone number.
The project’s primary strategy is to create incentives for landlords to relax screening criteria for people who are experiencing homelessness and have barriers that prevent the household from securing housing on their own. To convince landlords to take the risk of renting to people they might otherwise reject, the project offers an “insurance” of sorts: the commitment of services by a local service agency, and a Landlord Risk Reduction Fund, which reduces landlord exposure to excess damage costs or nonpayment of rent. The Risk Reduction Fund includes funding from King County, the City of Seattle, and United Way.
LLP is delivered by a staff of close to six FTEs, which includes a program manager, three housing specialists, a housing education specialist, and support staff. The LLP staff-to-client household ratio for 2009 was 1:24. This is likely to increase as the program expands. LLP staff provide outreach and engagement with landlords; provide direct assistance to clients to find appropriate housing (in partnership with the client’s case manager); maintain relationships with the landlords and service provider partners; and administer rental assistance funds to pay for move-in costs, time-limited rental payments to landlords, and eviction prevention funds. Additionally, LLP staff members oversee charges to the Risk Reduction Fund.
LLC staff members do not provide case management services, and the program does not provide long-term rental subsidies – these must be accessed through referring service provider agencies or other programs or resources in the community.
LLC serves three main constituencies in pursuit of its goal of increasing access to housing for people experiencing homelessness: clients (tenants), landlords, and partnering service agencies.
Support to Tenants
To participate in LLP, a household must be referred by a partnering agency. LLP assists participants with housing search, move-in costs and short-term rental assistance, eviction prevention, tenant trainings, and mediation with landlords. In case of a crisis where the tenant is unable to pay rent, eviction prevention funds are available for two years after move-in, on an as-needed basis. LLP staff works with the referring agency to formulate a plan to address the tenant’s underlying housing issues.
Support to Agencies
LLP partners with human service agencies to help obtain and maintain housing for their clients who are experiencing homelessness. The agencies often have relationships with landlords themselves, but for those households with many rental barriers, the LLP may be the fastest and best way to help the household secure housing.
To join as a participating agency in LLP, an agency completes an agency application form. Once the agency is approved, the agency’s case managers meet directly with LLP staff or attend an agency orientation. The orientation covers partner expectations, the client application process, financial assistance forms, tenant education opportunities, and other program questions. Partnership agreements with the LLP clarify roles and set expectations regarding the level and quality of services to be provided to tenants in housing.
The agency’s case manager completes a client application form with a client and submits it to the LLP. The case manager is notified when the application is approved or denied. LLP staff works collaboratively with the case manager to create a housing plan for the client. This may include direct referrals to landlords with current vacancies or direct housing search support from LLP staff.
Once the client’s rental application is approved by the landlord, the case manager and client schedule a move-in date. The case manager works with the landlord and client to determine move-in costs, attends the lease signing and walk-through inspection with the client and landlord, and sends move-in documents to LLP.
Each participating agency is expected to provide ongoing support services to the tenant. This includes monthly home visits during the first year of tenancy. The agency is also expected to respond to landlord concerns within two business days of a complaint. An agency referring clients with ongoing support needs (beyond the one year requirement) must provide a clear plan for long-term case management services for the clients.
Support to Landlords
LLP reaches out to recruit landlords who have vacancies they want to fill and who are willing to rent to people with rental barriers. The landlord and the LLP housing support specialist negotiate screening criteria, which must comply with fair housing laws, to allow LLP clients to access their rental units. Some examples of such screening criteria include allowing for up to two evictions in the past three years; allowing up to 75 percent bad credit in a total amount of up to $7,500; and, allowing for appeals and consideration of extenuating circumstances if housing applicants might otherwise be denied because of non-violent felony convictions within the last year or non-sexual, violent felony convictions within the last 10 years.
The landlord and LLP then enter into a LLP partnership agreement. Under the agreement, the LLP agrees to offer the landlord the following benefits:
Tenants who are ready to succeed in housing;
Guaranteed response to landlord concerns within two business days;
During the first year of tenancy, intensive support services including monthly service provider visits to LLP tenants’ homes, and eviction prevention assistance if tenants encounter financial difficulties;
During the first and second years of tenancy, LLP provides ongoing training for tenants about rental responsibility, continuing support services for tenants, and damage claim coverage for landlords if physical damage is done to their units.
The landlord informs LLP of available units on an ongoing basis. When the LLP provides the landlord with a client referral, the landlord applies the agreed-upon screening criteria, and notifies the participating agency whether the applicant is approved or denied. If the applicant is denied, the landlord may receive and consider an appeal letter from the agency. If the tenant is accepted, the landlord, agency and client meet at the unit to sign a rental agreement and participate in a move-in inspection. The landlord sends a copy of the lease and move-in inspection to LLP.
The landlord receives a confirmation of housing letter from LLP and is then granted access to a 24-hour LLP hotline. The landlord may submit a risk reduction fund claim form to LLP for any damages (over and above the original damage deposit) that occur within the first two years of tenancy. The LLP housing support specialist meets with the landlord annually to evaluate the partnership agreement.
As of the end of 2011, LLP had housed 885 households since the program’s inception in 2009.
The County conducted an initial evaluation of the project in 2010. The project was found to be highly successful over its first 10 months (March-December 2009). Among the findings:
73 landlords/property management companies signed on as partners with LLP by the end of 2009. This allows access to 159 rental properties in the community, ranging from large, multi-apartment complexes to single family homes. 85 percent of landlords report they would not have rented to this population without the LLP. Landlords rate the financial guarantees of the LLP as most important to their participation.
LLP placed 147 households in permanent housing. About half have a criminal background. Another quarter of the households have very poor rental histories. The remaining households report other barriers to renting, such as poor credit or drug or alcohol problems.
96 percent of LLP client households retained their housing six months after moving in.
Some Lessons Learned
As tenants reach the end of their one year of case management, the LLP team is called upon more and more to intervene in order to prevent loss of housing, as it is usually the first line of response when a problem arises. Adequate, flexible support service funding to ensure the provision of case management services for two years instead of one would mitigate this problem.
Limited rental subsidy availability is a key limit to LLP capacity. Additionally, some subsidies are not deep enough and do not last long enough to make private market units affordable long term.
Contact Info for Follow-up:
Landlord Liaison Project website: www.landlordliaisonproject.org. This includes links to the program FAQ sheet and forms, including the Landlord Participation Agreement and Screening Process and Criteria Agreement.
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