Ask NCFY: How Can Transitional Living Programs Keep Landlords Happy?
Q: Our transitional living program is, for the first time, planning to house youth in their own apartments around our city. What can we do to make sure our youth are good tenants and don't have issues with their landlords?
A: You're smart to ask this question now, rather than after youth have already moved in. The key to ensuring that your tenants are on good terms with their landlords is building strong, lasting connections between the landlords and your agency, says Megan Burr, who coordinates relationships with landlords for Community Youth Services in Olympia, WA.
Start by designating one staff person as your "landlord liaison," Burr says. That person will serve as the link between landlords or rental housing agencies, your organization, and youth tenants. He or she will reach out to prospective landlords and help build relationships with them even before youth move into their buildings.
To figure out what housing complexes will work with you, Burr says, your landlord liaison can attend meetings with public agencies that typically have connections with complexes willing to rent to those with poor credit or no credit. These agencies might include your state or county's department of corrections and supportive housing agencies.
Then, the liaison should talk to landlords and rental housing agencies to find out what kind of support they need when they rent their units to youth and young adults. The liaison might also want to talk to other youth-serving agencies about what works and what doesn’t in your area when it comes to building relationships with landlords.
Burr suggests finding a smallish number of apartment complexes that will work with your organization, say six to 12. That way, you can give all your landlords the time and attention they need. She also advises you to treat landlords the way you treat donors. Help landlords see their involvement in your program as an investment in their communities, and invite them to awards ceremonies and other gatherings your agency hosts so that they can understand your organization’s mission and how they can contribute.
Once youth have moved in, Burr helps the landlord ensure that rent and other fees are paid on time and that youth maintain the property well and follow the landlord's rules. If there’s a problem, Burr mediates a discussion between the youth, the landlord, and a case manager or social worker. She also works to empower youth residents by teaching life skills or facilitating workshops on renting housing, landlord-tenant laws, reading and understanding legal documents, being a smart consumer, budgeting, communication and cleanliness.
In fact, her training sessions for youth have been so successful they've had an unintended long-term benefit for youth: “Many of our youth participants have been offered jobs as custodians and office aids at the complexes where they live," she says, "because of the skills they have learned through our workshops.”
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