September 5, 2018

By Reggie Ellis

TULARE COUNTY – On any given night, there are 800 people experiencing homelessness in Tulare County. They find shade to retreat from the heat in the summer and hunker into corners to seek warmth in the winter. There are few places they can find temporary shelter and food and even fewer they can call their own. 

Studies continue to show that the answer to homelessness is providing housing for those without a home. Called transitional or supportive housing, these typically come in the form of apartments or houses for rent making landlords a key component to solving homelessness in Tulare County and across the state.

At its Aug. 28 meeting, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors heard a proposal from Michael Smith, executive director at the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance, to allocate $50,000 for a Landlord Mitigation Fund to reimburse landlords for issues that might arise from renting to at risk tenants. Smith told the supervisors that even when a person experiencing homelessness is approved for housing assistance, many landlords are unwilling to rent to them because of their unstable incomes, trails of evictions, or criminal history.

“Landlords have very real concerns,” Smith said. “We are asking real property owners to put their neck out on the line to help for the good of the community without any support to cover that risk.”

The Landlord Mitigation Fund, also known as Risk Mitigation Pool, reduces a landlord’s risk of damages and non-payment of rent by reimbursing them for any issues with transitional housing tenants. Smith said even with vouchers provided by Tulare County Housing Authority and other funding sources, someone referred for housing can wait up to 300 days before being sheltered in transitional housing. She said the fund would not only increase access to housing but also decrease the number of days people spend experiencing homelessness.

“We flat out have a housing shortage and folks are left on the street,” Smith said. 

Similar programs are already in use in cities and counties up and down the state. Earlier this year, the Kern County Housing Authority established a similar landlord mitigation fund in the amount of $40,000. In May 2017, the Stockton City Council approved $50,000 to start the Homeless Housing Mitigation Fund Program. In Sacramento, the City of Sacramento, County of Sacramento and Sutter Health approved a $1.8 million agreement to provide assistance to the homeless in March 2017. In May 2018, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors established the Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool (FHSP) to provide $18 million in rental subsidies.

“It’s more of an insurance fund,” Smith said. “In some cases the fund is rarely touched.”

Organized in 1999, the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance, which serves as the federally designated Continuum of Care of Homeless for the two counties, is a broad-based coalition of homeless housing and service providers, advocates, government representatives, and consumers working collaboratively to help shape regional planning and decision-making designed to increase services and funding to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. 

The Alliance participates in the Tulare County Homelessness Task Force created in December 2016. The item was only a report and will come back before the supervisors at a later date for a formal vote. 

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