Monday, March 30, 2015

Homelessness - A Roanoke City Low Income Landlords Perspective


I wrote another commentary for the Roanoke Times. It is listed below. This article regards what I see to be one of the primary reasons for homelessness in the city. A lack of affordable housing. We are currently in the submission process for the article and it hasn’t been published yet. So far, everything I have sent them they have included in the paper so I expect it will be granted for submission.

That was a fantastic article written by Kevin Kittredge, Mark Powell and Amy Morgan along with the participation input from Duane Howard, John McDonagal and Mark Petersen, regarding Southeast Roanoke being beyond it’s saturation point with homeless services.

I’ve never met a person that has said that the Mission doesn't do good work. However there is NO REASON that the Mission can't spread out it's services and offer them in other places of need. Or change their model to something that works towards getting every single person who walks through their doors into permanent housing. Especially with the massive amount of money, donations and volunteer labor that they get.

The mass shelter based housing model the Rescue Mission uses has been characterized across the country as only "managing the problem" rather than ending it like the modern methods do. I lived within a couple blocks of the Mission for several years and know for a fact that many of the same homeless people have been there at the mission for 25 plus years.

Methods such as homelessness prevention, rapid rehousing and availability of affordable housing are key to ending homelessness.

I am a low income landlord and have several properties in the city and around the Rescue Mission. I have a unique understanding of what causes homelessness as a result of the line of work I’m involved with. I would like to discuss my perspective of a contributing factor towards the reasons for homelessness that hasn’t been covered at length regarding this issue.

Multifamily housing is essential for low income people but is still too expensive for our lowest income population. For our lowest income population, all it takes is a situation like their car breaking down and the next thing they know they can’t pay rent and are in need of shelter.

As a landlord, I see their total monthly income when qualifying them for a rental. The average disability recipient gets a total of $700 per month to live on from their SSI check. NO ONE can survive on that income unless they have the ability to split up their rent with several other people. Keep in mind that a typical small multifamily apartment in a low income area runs in the $500 range to rent. They then have to eat, have gas for their car, pay their utilities amongst many other expenses.

That’s why rooming houses are essential to providing our lowest income population with an affordable place to live where they don’t have utility bills eating up the remaining amount of their income.

Back in 2006 the city decided to rezone all of the housing dramatically decreasing the number of affordable multifamily housing units. They also cracked down on rooming houses making it so landlords could not afford to operate one and pay the utility bills along with taxes, mortgages, maintenance, insurance, etc with the 4 unrelated adults limit they imposed. This drove up the room prices out of the range of our lowest income population.

The 2006 crack down created very small economically segregated pockets within the city where this affordable housing can exist. This in turn created a supply and demand issue which contributed to higher rents.

The next steps the city took after making this change was to partner with a few select landlords that call themselves “social entrepreneurs”,  They sold them buildings for $10 dollars that you and I as tax payers paid millions for. They then allowed them to turn these buildings into Luxury Apartments further exacerbating the problem. We are now left with very few affordable housing options for the homeless and an overwhelming supply of housing for moderate to high income people.

Roanoke City has been importing homeless from all over the state of Virginia and surrounding states. We are either going to need to stop the importation of homeless or create avenues that will end homelessness rather than simply managing the problem.

A modification of the cities existing rooming house policy would be one quick partial solution. This would result in a substantial Rescue Mission population decrease which would allow for them to focus on the worst problems by helping those who have mental conditions, drug addictions, or providing training for people to get jobs, etc.

Solving the homeless issue in the city will require a multifaceted approach. And all parties will need to work together including the city government, homeless services and landlords. This problem won’t resolve itself on it’s own.

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