Persuading Santa Barbara landlords to house the homeless

Photos by Genevieve Swords

As part of a statewide collaboration with with dozens of L.A. and San Francisco media outlets, KCRW is focusing attention on the issue of homelessness today.

It may sound obvious, but a major barrier for homeless is access to housing. That’s especially true in Santa Barbara, where the rental market is 99.5 percent full and a typical one-bedroom goes for $1,600. With dozens of applications, why would a landlord pick someone who’s lived on the streets?

A program called the Landlord Liaison Partnership is trying to answer that question. It works to house homeless veterans and families who were previously denied by landlords.

“Essentially the program takes a business model to accomplish social needs,” said Susan O’Higgins, the program’s partnership director. It’s modeled after one that started in Seattle, Wash., which housed 5,000 homeless people in the first five years.

Within the LLP’s first year, O’Higgins has signed up 18 landlords within Santa Barbara County, and housed 46 people. So far, there have been no evictions.

KCRW talked to O’Higgens about the program.

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KCRW: We all know rent affordability and vacancy rates in Santa Barbara are real issues. Why would a landlord choose your applicants over the dozens of other people who may be, on paper, anyway, more qualified?

Susan O’Higgins: We give landlords added financial and social service incentives. For instance, we provide a risk reduction fund that’s above and beyond the security deposit. They can use that if there’s extra damages to the unit or any eviction costs involved. We also guarantee our landlords that a case manager will visit the tenant at their unit once a month. That means someone is watching the unit and helping the client keep on track with their money management.

How do people looking to get placed find you?

The clientele for the LLP come through a social service agency. Clients do not apply to the LLP individually. Most have Section 8 vouchers. It’s a requirement that they have the financial resources to pay the rent. They also come with money management and renter responsibility training. So, they come with a whole lot more than just being able to pay the rent.

How do the people who are more vulnerable find housing?

The LLP does not yet work with that group. That takes a whole other skill set than what our program is set up for. But, there are plenty other social service agencies in the community that take care of that particular people group.

Here are some of those agencies: