It Is Time to Shape Housing Search into a Sole Responsibility of Dedicated Housing Locators in California
–Next steps should involve influencing future legislative language and
delineating current legislative language–
In California, housing search has largely happened through the efforts of housing navigators, street outreach workers, case managers, and homeless persons they are trying to permanently house. It is time, however, for Housing Search to be a sole responsibility for dedicated Housing Locators in California.
The unprecedented funding committed to preventing and ending homelessness as the result of increasing California legislation provides a unique opportunity for jurisdictions to initiate or expand housing search through Housing Locators.
The timing for this action is needed because of the limited number of units available for persons who are languishing on the streets. As we await construction of new units and rehabilitation and/or conversion of existing units (e.g. motels to housing) for those ailing, identifying the limited number of potential units ready for rental is crucial. Too many persons are languishing because of illnesses and ill-behaviors. They are often vulnerable to victimization due to diseases, discrimination, and delinquency.
Too often we have said “there is no housing in our communities” for persons who are homeless. Yet, because of the efforts of housing navigators, street outreach workers, case managers, and the homeless persons that they are trying to permanently house, dozens and even hundreds of homeless persons are permanently housed within many of our jurisdictions each year.
These staff persons, however, have many other responsibilities that demand their time. As a result, they may only be finding a limited number of the limited number of potential rental units for persons who are homeless.
Initiating or expanding housing search through Housing Locators whose sole responsibility is housing search will likely result in finding a larger number of the limited number of potential units for persons who are homeless in our jurisdictions. Housing Locators should be dedicated solely to housing search activities and not be involved in street outreach, housing navigation, or case management services. Their activities should solely focus on finding as many of the limited number of potential units as possible by engaging a broad network of property owners; property managers; residential care providers; affordable housing developers; affordable housing operators; single room occupancy corporations; permanent supportive housing providers; and others through
• one-on-one meetings; and
• group meetings including representatives from the broad network noted above.
A key resource for Housing Locators to recruit representatives is a Landlords Incentive Program that addresses concerns such as unpaid rent, excessive damages, insurance deductibles, and court costs if needed. The program should also make a contact person available to respond expediently to landlords if and when needed.
Benefits from initiating or expanding Housing Locators within jurisdictions include:
1. finding more of the limited number of potential units for persons who are homeless in our jurisdictions;
2. increasing time for recruiting and engaging a broad network of persons and organizations that have rental units;
3. supplying more housing opportunities to help move homeless persons out of local coordinated entry systems quicker; and
4. providing more time for street outreach workers, housing navigators, and case managers to focus on non-housing search responsibilities.
It is worth noting that funding housing search will likely make funding other service activities such as street outreach and housing navigation more effective.
Next steps involve delineating current legislative language and defining future legislative language.
Current Legislative Language
Housing search should be delineated under funding sources that have been provided under current legislation. For example, if a current funding source allows for “Services” that include other services such as street outreach or housing navigation, housing search should be encouraged as an eligible use of the funds, especially because of its benefits to other such services. Current legislative language, generally allows for delineation, because when an eligible use such as “Services” is noted in a related NOFA, it is often proceeded by language such as “Eligible uses include, but are not limited to” such as in the NOFA for the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) created by SB 850 in January, 2018.
Future Legislative Language
Future legislative language should include a definition of housing search that includes recruiting and engaging a broad network of persons and organizations that have rental units in order to encourage them to rent to persons who are homeless. This definition should then be included in future NOFAs (Notice of Funding Availability). Housing search should also be included under eligible uses. For example, if one eligible use is “Services,” housing search should be listed in a similar way as other listed services such as street outreach and housing navigation.